Of Standards, Convergence & Collaboration – Winning back consumer confidence

Modern life is, at best, complex Electronic Chargers and Rechargersand, at worst, horribly wasteful and confusing. I am galled by the number of chargers that I must pack with me when I travel with my various electronics. On any given holidays, I will leave with the iPod, the blackberry, the Bluetooth earpiece, the laptop, electric razor, and the camera… And my wife will bring her palm pilot and phone to add two more to the mix. Each requires a specific and, typically, different recharger (such as different voltage requirements and different attachment), taking up a sizeable portion of my suitcase. It’s a wonder my carry-on isn’t always opened at the x-ray machine.

Laptop Battery

On another level, I have observed the wildly confusing marketing claims for the duration of laptop batteries. And, going even further, of course, we have the outrageously confusing and mostly misleading eco “green” claims, all too frequently a version of greenwashing.

With a shake of the magic wand, would it not be more sensible for us to have a single charger with variable voltage, a battery life upon which one could rely and a confidence to say that the eco-savings into which one bought are true? In any event, a standardization and convergence on these elements of life in 2010 might go some way to improving my quality of life.

If we take the case of the longevity of laptop batteries, as an IHT article, “Warning: Stated battery life may have no relation to reality” (June 25, 2009), states, you can find wildly varying performances that systematically disappoint. Standardisation as to how long the battery lasts has been created for cameras and (increasingly) for cell phones. However, for laptops, the game remains confused and the consumer remains a frustrated, if not deceived, individual. The current MobileMark® 2007 tests are inadequate and unrealistic. Furthermore, the way to “optimize” the battery’s longevity seems to be fraught with grandma’s tales and urban myths (charge fully, then use the first time until it drains is all I know).

In terms of green claims, it strikes me that the various industry associations have been slow to react. Certain NGOs have attempted to identify green dilution and misleading communications. However, industry would be better off defining the rules of the game rather than letting the well-intentioned NGOs doing so; at the very least, industry and NGO should be collaborating together.

Convergence Image

The more I look at the panoply of brands, the breadth of products and the multiplicity of claims, I continue to see the need for a greater collaboration and “higher level” convergence between industrialists. Such collaboration should not hurt the consumer. Indeed, it should go beyond, even protecting the paying consumer (and such an objective would be honourable enough). If industrialists were able to find common grounds of collaboration – and I am not meaning collusion — this collaboration would be in the best interests of that industry, presumably, enabling it to help enlarge its pie – the sector’s market share.

So, while my inner liberal self might wish to rebel against rules and standards, might feel oppressed by communistic convergence, and certainly would be wary of secretive collusion, I am inclined to believe that the consumer and industry would benefit by figuring out some standard conventions. Of course, not everyone benefits and some would win more than others. The company around whose convention the rest rally will certainly have a first movers’ advantage. But, by clearing up the immense confusion and latent frustration, companies may again go some way to regaining the confidence and trust that consumers seem to have lost, at least in part, in corporate claims and, more broadly, in brands. And by having just one multi-unit charger and a reliable battery life for my laptop, I will certainly travel lighter and better. Of course, I still have to fret about the different electrical plugs. But, that’s another battle altogether.

Google Health – Innovation or Invasion?

Google launched a year ago (March 2008) a new service, Google Health. According to its corporate mission, Google seeks ways to consolidate information and make that information available anytime, anywhere. This time, Google is innovating in an area as sensitive as it gets, your health data. Will Google Health be considered an innovation or an invasion?

Google Health Screen Capture

Google states upfront that the data will remain entirely confidential unless and as you see fit to share it (with specified family, friends and medical support staff…).
Google writes, “[w]e believe that your health information belongs to you, and you should decide how much you share and whom you share it with. We will never sell your data. We store your information securely and privately. Check out our privacy policy <http://www.google.com/intl/en-US/health/privacy.html> to learn more.”

Essentially, the idea is to track all your medical information and history in one single spot. Digitizing your medical records would seem to be a necessary prerequisite to making this service useful. That means scanning in all the handwritten notes and immunization cards, etc. that you have been carefully filing away and moving with you from home to home over the years. Google Health does enable you to import your medical records, but that supposes that all your medical service providers have your records on digital file. For now, Google has evidently done some of the legwork by partnering with a host of hospitals, doctors and pharmacies, etc. But, I sincerely doubt that they have us all covered under that partnership, especially when the majority of my files are ex-United States. Presumably at one point, you can imagine that there will be a technology that allows us to upload all our xrays too?

As a source of information, using the intelligence of microprocessors, random access memory and contextual search engines, I can definitely imagine the benefits of Google Health down the road. Google writes, “Every time you add new health data to your profile, Google Health will check for potential interactions between your drugs, allergies, and conditions.” And, for those of you who travel a lot, the ability to have all your health data at your fingertips can be a true boon. For now, I am signing up just to see what it all means even if it will be difficult to assemble all my data spread out in multiple countries. There certainly is the potential for this type of service to radically change the way we manage our own health. For that, trusting in Google’s privacy record, I am deeply in favour. I will be interested to find out what the medical members of the blog community say about this? Please give me your thoughts.

— UPDATED April 28th, 2009

“Technology is making health care more portable, precise and personal”

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to pick up the April 18, 2009 Economist, in which there was a timely special, Medicine Goes Digital,” on the topic of digitising health records. As the article (16 pages) states, “the health-sector has been surprisingly reluctant to embrace information technology…” as doctors still tend to work with pen and paper in most of the world. “The convergence of biology and engineering is turning health care into an information industry. That will be disruptive, says Vijay Vaitheeswaran (the Economist’s health care correspondent interviewed here), but also hugely beneficial to patients.” The article strongly points to the gains that can be made from a patient’s standpoint by being the master of his or her own medical information. A study by the RAND think tank forecasts that, if over a 15 year period, 90% of US hospitals adopted Health Information Technologies, there would be potential annual savings of $77B from efficiencies; and the savings could double if health and safety benefits were also factored in. That would equate to a 6% reduction in the 2.6 trillion dollar health care bill for the US this year. So, we need to encourage the doctors to go digital (which will help clear up mistakes from the forever illegible hieroglyphics that doctors learn in medical school) as well as acclimate patients to storing the information on secure sites on the ‘net. Let’s get the ball rolling!

Convergence – In search of the Uber Consolidation

Convergence logoAre you like me, Seeking the Consolidation & Convergence of all Applications, Tools and Electrical Wires?

I enjoyed this article from Engadget “What Apple could learn from Palm Web OS” and it spurred me to consider my state of un-convergence, with the multiplicity of electronics that I lug around, different coloured USB keys to swap files, portable disk drives for backups, Apples and Dells, iPod and Blackberry, camera and video, work and home, Freebox and AppleTV, avi and wmv… The list of interdependent yet not connected items continues to gall me. When can we have the uber-converged mother-of-all tool?

Specifically, I dream of consolidating all my address book information whereby all my snail mail and email addresses and telephone numbers are simultaneously updated and accessible across every platform — think Plaxo on drugs. I think of centralizing all my digital communications so that, instead of jumping from Facebook to LinkedIn to twine to twitter to Hotmail and gmail, etc., I just have one email site to open and one preferred functionality to use — think universal netvibes. I wonder if it is time for me to abandon a fixed line at home (like 1 in 5 US households apparently) to concentrate on one mobile phone (nix one for work and one for personal use) so that I have just one telephone number to give out and have one less bill to pay (albeit the fixed home telephone is embedded in an internet and television subscription here in France). I am confounded by the number of different electric chargers that I must carry with me to support my blackberry, my iPod, laptop and earphone, etc. — much less when I travel abroad with all the different plug adaptors. I puzzle at the stash of USB connector chords that I have by my computer to connect the various apparatus with non-standard fixtures to my main computer (thank goodness for the USB hubs). And, if all that were not enough, I just want my laptop, desktop, television, iPod and mobile phone all to be the same. On this latter point, aside from the large keyboard, one can sniff that an economically viable answer is around the corner.

Convergence Mobility Telephone & Computers

Somehow, despite my fast typing and reading skills, I still feel like I am near to being submerged by the burgeoning number of sites and applications to which I have signed up. Is my webiquity catching up with me? On the application front, among the solutions that are out there and that are truly helping, there is hellotxt that creates“what am I doing” microblog messages for a wide variety of twittery applications — and can be updated now via the mobile. There is the aforementioned netvibes (est 8 million users) or pageflakes for storing a good portion of different applications such as Facebook, gmail and/or hotmail (albeit you still need to switch to the individual applications to read and write). Still, there is no full coverage system. Proprietary applications and stonewalling is clearly stopping the creation of the mega-consolidator. One thing is for sure; I am not alone in my desire, even in France. There was a study done by Accenture in France about the desire for telephonic convergence in France (no longer available on line).

Palm Pre TelephoneI gather that Palm has come up with a new palm PRE (coming soon, pictured right) all-in-one product. See here at Engadget and here on Mobiledia for more details. A friend at Nokia has reliably told me that the Nokia E71 “connected freedom” is a good alternative with the bonus of being available already. And, there’s the Touch screen qwerty Nokia N97 coming soon. Could it be that a hardware company can come up with the wherewithal to centralize all the different applications?

But, as urgent and (de-)pressing as the need for convergence is, the world of the web is expanding like the universe…to appear and operate on many different media…well beyond phones… on buses, tables, buildings, all electronic appliances… And newer still appliances and applications are sprouting up like mushroom so that, just when you think you have it all together and think you can converge onto one new glorious, unifying ubermetaplatform, you are going to be faced with the mobile book reader (Sony’s PRS-700BC or Amazon’s Kindle); the to do list consolidator that wirelessly feeds the “shopping list” on the kitchen fridge into your uber-PDA todo list; or a digital pen that magically transforms letters on a page into a typed document.

Just think about it. There are a billion people connected to the net now via their computers. The next billion internet connections will come on mobile platforms… Ready for mobile phone banking and mobi-creditcards (try wizzit which won the top prize at the NetExplorateur 2009)? On-demand shopping assistance, advice and ratings on your uber personal mobile device (try Big In Japan – Biggu – T-Mobile G1 on YouTube coming soon to Europe)? The third billion one has to imagine will have internet literally at, if not, in our fingertips. Everything will be wired.

Of course, there’s another topic brewing here regarding the convergence of branding, entertainment, advertising and consumption and how best to tackle the convergence from a marketing standpoint. But, better save that for another post.

What are your thoughts about convergence? What are your favourite tools? Or do you feel that it is just an interminable rat race and a way to get us to spend more money (think Vinyl-DAT-CD-mp3-mp4…)?

Facebook and new media communication…the deluge continues

Facebook New MediaFacebook, Blackberry, LinkedIn, Viadeo, Hotmail, Twitter, Plaxo, Jaiku, Bloglight.ning, del.icio.us and so on … the options for getting in touch are spreading rampantly. There is, on the one hand, a convergence and agglomeration of sites and, on the other, a massive divergence in terms of electronic communications. This latter consideration has now hit me frontally and seems to be winning out. Okay, it has been a few weeks already, but the daily Facebook slap in faceonslaught of new friends and notifications on Facebook (FB) has basically slapped me in the Face.

Whereas I thought that a service like Netvibes was going to centralize and rationalize my (first, not second) life, the matinal “you’ve got mail” [for those poor people still paying AOL] has become “you”ve been nailed”. If it were not enough to have the quixotic vampires and zombies on FB, the hotmail emails are now stacking up alerts to open up other incoming messages on other platforms, from walls to superwalls to highballs and phone calls and text messaging. I believe that services like Netvibes are going to have redouble their efforts to become the singular interface. Spaces like MSN may need to be more liberal in allowing new applications and widgets (opening to other services) if they want to retain their primacy.

Here’s what I like in these new forms of communication: the enlargening of the net of friends with whom I am in touch and the rapidity and diversity (if meaninglessness) of the functionalities, such as poke back.

Here’s what is getting messy: where is the centralized database, warehousing of the messages and addresses? It’s getting more complex to keep up with all the threads.

Here is what is ugly: the paroxysm of messaging. Basic overload. It is getting too much even for me.

With this proliferation of “e-mail” (broadly speaking electronic communication) platforms it makes me wonder if standalone email will evolve to only be for spam and “non friendly” communication while the other services hone the idea of opted-in messaging with pre-selected contacts (“friends” in FB, linkedin contacts, Groups, etc.).

Meanwhile, the news announced last night on CNN Money (or Fortune) whereby Microsoft won out over Google and invested in $240 million for 1.6% of Facebook implies that FB is being valued at $15 billion. You have to admire Zuckerberg’s resolve at the age of 23 to delay the IPO for yet another year or two. Is he holding out for the 100 billion award? Borrowing from the tipping point concept, I see three tips: the first was the programmer/hacker rush to create their own applications on FB. The second, is the current tsunami type wave which is based on the socialBlackberry networking/gaming and is spreading like wildfire among groups. Then the last one will be as FB becomes a more accepted messaging service replacing emails (on hotmail, gmail, etc) and becomes accepted unilaterally at work sites. The Blackberry facedeal between Blackberry and Facebook speaks to the early stages of this notion (they’ve already termed it “Faceberry”). Let’s see how Blackberry shares face today. By getting a foot in the door with FB, is Microsoft going to be able to bring what amounts to an open platform feeling (that exists in FB) to its sites? Meanwhile, ‘poor’ old Google will have to make do with spreading its Orkut social networking site which, for now, is only known in Brazil.

What do you think?

For other blogs and articles on the topic (for those of you who didn’t get enough!)
Seattle pi
Guardian Unlimited
Ben Metcalf