Temptation of Completion

To Do Items

Right now I have 76 articles in my RSS feed, 1 unread email, 10 unwatched podcasts, 8 shows in my Hulu queue, 59 items in my Netflix queue and more items on my to-do list than I care to mention. Those numbers aren’t really that bad though. I feel like I can get caught up on them all if I just apply myself to them. I feel like I should get on that. Those number badges telling me how much I have undone are calling out to me.

Should I get caught up though? That’s really the question. Is it important that I get caught up on everything? The truth is that I’m never caught up on any of those numbers for long. Actually, at this point, I might be more caught up than I’ve been in awhile. A part of me really wants to get caught up. Maybe it even needs to get caught up. There is a part of me that likes to cross things off my list to do. The problem is that getting caught up on certain items will prevent me from completing more important items on the list. The numbers are a definite problem. I feel like I want to have lower counts and the best way to reduce those numbers significantly is to address the quick items. Getting rid of all the items in my RSS feed, catching up on podcasts and emails feels good, but isn’t necessarily the best use of my time. Instead, I should be crossing off items on my to-do list. Doing that will push me forward with my goals and possibly generate income.

I can’t shake the desire to reduce those counts of incompleted items though and I need to address that compulsion somehow. Maybe I need to do a cross bucket version of inbox zero and just delete everything that isn’t a to-do item. That might get me some relief and get me back on track. I know I was strangely boosted when my RSS feed accidentally had all items marked as read. It was distressing at first that I was missing out on a lot of knowledge, but ultimately freeing that I didn’t have to process the hundreds of items I was backed up. Realistically, there is always more to learn and more we can learn. If we can’t focus on what we need to do though, we’ll never get anything of consequence done. I plan to get started on that right now. As soon as I get caught up on my RSS feed…

Karma or Networking?

pizza deliveryWe have all seen someone in need and thought, “I could help them, but that’s not my job.” It’s human nature. People usually look after themselves before they think to help someone else. While that seems to be the way of things, I’d like to argue that in a lot of cases (but not all), acting in your self interest is actually not in your self interest. I read about a good example of that today on Lifehacker. In the article, Derek Sivers told the story of how when he was at the Berklee College of Music, he bought a pizza for an executive at BMI. Derek had overheard that the executive had expected that there would be food and so hadn’t eaten lunch. The executive was then confronted with a two hour class and nothing to eat.  At least until the pizzas that Derek ordered were unexpectedly delivered. Grateful for the thoughtfulness of Derek’s gesture, the BMI executive offered his card to Derek and the invitation to call him anytime.  If Derek had acted only in his self interest, he would have skipped on buying the pizza and in actuality would have acted in a way that was not in his best self interest because he wouldn’t have made that connection with someone who ended up taking a large part in starting Derek’s career.

While the way the article was written made the move seem calculated by Derek, I think his motives were probably pure. There was no reason for him to believe that he would get anything in return for his kindness. Plus, he bought pizza for the rest of the class as well and they certainly weren’t going to be doing anything for him. A calculated move can work also, but acts that aren’t motivated by gain usually work better.  People can see through people with ulterior motives and don’t hold them in the same regard.

That’s why I believe in karma as a mode to networking. It works.  Do good things for people. Do it because it makes you feel good about yourself and because it helps people. In that moment, you’ll be better for it and one day it might come back to you in a way that you never expected.

Suitcase Startup – Marketing

I checked back in to see how Chris Bradley was doing with his web show Suitcase Startup and his company Publicate. This week the focus was on marketing on a shoestring budget. The main findings of the episode were that you just have to create a product that delivers value and give the people that use it a way to promote it for you. That way, you can develop strong organic growth like Instagram. If you want to watch the episode, I’ll embed it below.

I agree with what was said in the episode, but I don’t think it went far enough. If you truly want strong growth, you’ll have to do more than make people like your product and talk about it. You have to utterly delight people, so that they bring your product up in normal conversations. They need to have your product be such a part of their lives that people will see them using it just as a matter of course. Then when people ask about the product, they’ll be very passionate about why they use it and they will be your greatest salespeople. Easy to do? No. Essential? Yes.

Monetizing the Untrackable

Dollars ChartMany consumer facing internet businesses realize that people want free services. As a result, they pursue alternate monetization options. The most common monetization strategy is advertising. Achieving sufficient monetization for complex webs apps or services through advertising has been a difficult feat to achieve though. It has been possible for some companies because of the large amount of users they reach and the the extremely targeted nature of the advertising that they are able to provide.

That’s why it was exciting for many businesses when Mark Zuckerberg told Mike Arrington in 2010 that social norms were evolving and people were becoming more open to sharing personal data and were sharing more information, more kinds of information and with more people. Here we are in 2013 though and at least according to a study by Ovum’s latest Consumer Insights Survey, 68% of the Internet population across 11 countries would select a Do Not Track option, if it was easily available. That doesn’t bode well for businesses that derive the majority of their revenue from mining the data of their users.

That one piece of information should give companies that rely on their users’ data for their profits pause. Do they have another viable monetization strategy or maybe even a handful of strategies? If not, they better devise one. At this point, it looks like companies that collect the majority of their data based upon the activity of the users while on their sites or in their apps will be unaffected. If the majority of the data they collect is based on following their users around the web like Facebook does, there might be a potential bump in the road down the line. There is no tracking the untrackable.

Check iOS App Usage Rankings

Onavo InsightsSince I’m working on a startup in the exercise tracking space, I’ve been very interested in the competition. What are they doing? What are they doing well? Poorly? And how positively are their apps being perceived? Most importantly though, I’ve wanted to know how much are their apps used. That information is good for many reasons. If a really popular service with a lot of users isn’t getting a lot of time spent in their apps, it could tell us something valuable. Maybe their service derives it’s benefit from you not needing to use the app directly. Or maybe the app isn’t driving enough value and that is a good place where we could differentiate ourselves.

Unfortunately, most of the places I’ve looked have only provied download information. One such place is Distimo. That is good information because it shows whether the app received enough buzz to get downloaded a substantial amount and we could learn from those companies that did well what it takes to get people to use the app at least once.  The second part of the equation is knowing which apps receive the most ongoing usage.  That information could help us to figure out what gets people to keep using an app.  So far, that information hasn’t been easily available. Today, Onavo launched a service called Onavo Insights to do just that. It gives you the ability to access data on usage, engagement and retention of apps. At the moment they only track iOS apps, but they promise to be expanding to other platforms soon. I’m looking forward to that, but for now I’ll be digging into some data to see if we can build a better mousetrap. I mean better exercise tracking app.

Being a Founder

While working on the initial stages of the stealth mode startup that I’m currently working on, I received an email from SlideShare with a presentation from Om Malik called Evolution of a Founder. I’ll embed that below, but before I do that, here was my big takeaway from the presentation. If you’re a founder, remember it’s not all about you. It’s all about your team and the mission. If it’s all about you, you’re doing it wrong.

Quantifying Yourself

Blood Pressure CheckIf you haven’t heard of the quantified self, it’s a movement to gather as much data as possible about one’s life using technology.  That data is then analyzed to provide your with the information you need to improve yourself and your life. That could include everything from exercises performed, food eaten, hydration, sweat volume, heart rate, weight, blood pressure, etc. Often that data is collected and uploaded online using passive means through a wearable device, such as the Fitbit. Other times the information is collected with slightly more effort by the participant using a device like one of the Withings scales or blood pressure monitors.

The method of data collection is not the most important or even the most interesting part of the quantified self though. It’s merely the gadget portion of it, which makes achieving the quantified self a lot more accessible to the masses. The most interesting part of the quantified self is the sheer volume of data that we are now able to track about ourselves. We’ll be able to see how every single activity we participate in affects our bodies. We’ll be able to see trends of our weight and health and correlate them to our actions (or inactions) and be able to build habits that maximize our health and happiness while minimizing our investment of time and effort. In the busy lives we live today, that will be crucial to improving the health of millions of people. It will also allow us to share troubling data with healthcare providers in order to troubleshoot health issues before they become catastrophic.

I’m very excited and interested in the quantified self movement because I see it as one place that we can gain tremendous value as individuals and as a society. As individuals, we can improve our health, feel better and save money on health related issues. As a society, we can drive down the cost of medicine by improving society’s overall health and catching health issues earlier when they are less expensive to treat. If there was ever an area where sharing your information with a corporation could provide you with even more benefit than the information you gave up in exchange for it, this would be the place. The information collected should be kept private and only provided to other entities as aggregated, anonymized data, except where the user explicitly agrees with it being shared with a specific health provider. The efforts of people to improve their health should never be shared in a way that might impact their ability to get health insurance or increase the cost of that coverage. If done right, the quantified self movement could be a huge boon for humanity and not just a geek fad.

Work Ethic

Over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t have the work ethic that I grew up with. They want to do the minimum at work all the time. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some highly motivated individuals during the years I worked as a consultant with Accenture, but I’ve still bumped into so many people over the years that left me in slack jawed amazement at their lack of work ethic. As an example, I had the displeasure of meeting someone who didn’t do five minutes of work that cost her company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Was she overwhelmed with work? No. She spent hours gossiping and rarely put in her full forty hours of work to boot. She just didn’t do the work. The scary part? She’s not an exception. She’s just one of many similar examples I can pull out at any moment.

The plus side of this horrible state of affairs is that people with a strong work ethic can become superstars just by applying themselves with vigor. Put your back into what you do and people will notice because people often do the minimum. If you go above the call of duty you will be considered a tremendous asset and will be given more opportunities. So, to keep myself from despairing, I try to surround myself with “over achievers” (people who aren’t lazy) and take the huge opportunities left by the vast majority of people who try to skate by in life without putting in any real effort.

While contemplating the lack of work ethic in many people, a new episode of “Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project” appeared in my iTunes. The topic of the show: Work Ethic. It’s a great show in general and this one I particularly enjoyed. Give it a listen. Or watch it below.

Privacy Lost

Google GlassPeople seem to be going gaga over Google Glass. I get it. It’s a cool piece of technology. It looks like the future that the sci-fi movies I watched when I was younger promised us. As soon as I wrote that last sentence, a thought occurred to me. Most of those movies were of dystopian futures. I don’t remember a whole lot of movies where those glasses were used to talk to your mom or your kids. Usually they were used to hunt people down that committed crimes that didn’t seem to really be crimes at all. The one exception I remember was Geordi La Forge, but he was blind. You didn’t see the whole crew on the Enterprise opting to have a screen in front of their eyes at all times.

I see so many cool applications for Google Glass. You could instantly know the name of the person in front of you that you were only introduced to last year. You could get driving directions without distracting you from the road. You could see all your car’s dashboard info without looking down. You could see if the call buzzing in your pocket was even worth picking up without taking your phone out. Those are just the ones I came up with while writing this. The possibilities are huge.

I also see a huge set of problems with Google Glass. The most important one I see is privacy. But I get to choose to use them or not, so it’s no big deal you say? I’m not worried about you. That’s your problem. What about all the other people that you encounter every day? Are you going to walk around with your Google Glass turned off except when you have permission from everyone in your line of sight that using them is ok? I didn’t think so. That raises a lot of potential issues.

Google Glass is connected to Google’s servers, so it has to be reporting back everything you see all the time. That means that Google would have access to everything you see wherever you go. Don’t forget to take those off before you go into the bathroom or the locker room at the gym. Seriously. Don’t.

All that data is very valuable to Google. They’ll be able to target you with advertising like never before. They will also be able to use their facial recognition software to know everyone you saw or interacted with. Plus, it has a microphone. That means they’ll hear whatever you hear. Anyone wondering how much of that is recorded? Me, too. I’m also wondering what a government will need to do to get access to all that information or to tap it somehow. Wear one of these and your privacy is infinitely more compromised than it is using a smartphone with GPS and Facebook. Temper your excitement with that thought before you jump into Google Glass. It’s cool, but it has some serious drawbacks. Oh and if you’re coming to talk to me, turn off your Google Glass and put them in your bag first, please. That’s the polite thing to do. I don’t storm into your house recording video and audio and uploading it all to Facebook.

The Value of Your Information

Under SurveillanceEveryday, we all give up a little more of our privacy, whether we know it or not. Some ways are obvious, such as closed circuit cameras (some with microphones), which are being used to monitor us(especially in the UK) or unmanned drones. These are some of the worst because people see their privacy being stolen openly and go along with it in the misguided belief that they are somehow safer. Other ways of infringing our privacy, like web and mobile tracking, happen so invisibly that most people don’t realize it’s happening. The old saying that “knowledge is power” is incredibly accurate and the main problem is that people don’t realize to what degree.

You can tell that people don’t know the true value of information because they often give up the most important information they control, their own private information, incredibly easily. People will often give up all their contact information and home address for a store card that occasionally gives them a discount on an item that they purchase. They think it’s a fair trade. In exchange for sharing a tiny piece of information, they save a few dollars a week. Ok, fair enough. What about the fact that the card you just obtained keeps a history of every purchase you make at that store if you use it? How about the fact that they can link the payment source you used, such as a credit card and could link all the purchases made on that card even if you skip using your store card sometimes?

It’s not a problem though because they can’t do anything with that information, right? I mean you read the terms of the store card when you signed up for it, didn’t you? No? Well, maybe you should have. Some of those cards might have terms that would allow them to share information with a partner company. What if that partner company happened to be your health insurance company and they noted that you buy a lot of junk food, booze and cigarettes. They would definitely use that information to raise your rates. How much money did that store card save you now? I don’t know of any insurance company that is doing that right now, but the stores are tracking your information and if a law doesn’t prevent that, they might use your information that way in the future.

Store cards are not the only vector for collecting that information. Think about all the other places this kind of data might be recorded. Credit card companies know where you shop. The search engines know everything you search for and if you’re logged in to them, everything you view. Service like Facebook and Twitter have access to all the data that you enter there. Data, which is often far more valuable than the service they provide to you in return. The perception of that value is what is driving the values of those companies so incredibly high. Whether they are able to capitalize on that value is immaterial. There’s data gold in them thar hills! And they plan to get it with your help.

I’m not saying to stop sharing your data online or hole yourself up in your house to protect your privacy, but I do think that we should think a little bit more about what information people are gathering about us when we go about our daily routines. If you are going to give up some of your information, get value in return for it and don’t give up any information that might compromise you in the future.