Don’t be evil: Hope for fractured convergence

Google is a remarkable company.  They’ve flipped the business model in numerous ways, because they can.  But what’s happening in the mobile space is becoming a both exciting and troubling.  I love how they give away navigation data, or that they pay manufacturers to use their phone.  Soon they will subsidize your laptop, and maybe even your TV.  It’s giving folks who don’t normally have access to some of this technology a way to buy it.  And in the mobile space, with their new “phone”, they are trying to break the carrier-driven model (which I argue would come anyways once LTE rolls around, as most carriers will then be on the same technical platform).  To Google, it’s all about getting the accessing the world’s information and letting you search it quickly (and of course selling ads).

But soon, a single company could provide your software for your email, browser, OS, TV, and mobile phone.  That’s every single way I consume information, purchase products, and communicate with my friends and family.  A single advertising company.

Right now, they are a fairly friendly privacy company.  But what happens if growth slows, or there’s a change in leadership, and the company is pressured to seek alternate revenue streams.  I’m not sure I’m ready for a single company to own/control access to all this data.  I like convergence but not this much.  The question as a consumer is where do we draw the line?  Google has not made many major missteps with privacy (though last week’s comments were awfully close).  But what if that changes?

The thing is this – there should be a large competitor that’s challenging Google and trying to perform the same convergence, and there isn’t a clear one yet.  Yahoo tried with Connect TV/Digital Home, but they have been struggling.  Microsoft has been trying to push Media Center for awhile, and their mobile platform is confusing at best.

Apple seems the best poised.  Although no one has said it, the new Google device is their answer to the iPod Touch, a tremendous device that can be used for a variety of things, including as a phone (and I’m guessing an HD camera soon).  But Apple tends to attack verticals.  Regardless, I will continue to use my Apple phone, my Windows laptop, and my garbage software on my TV.

I hope some startups and incumbents come up with ways to challenge Google on all fronts.

FYI – I’m long Apple.

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My Dream: Merging LBS, Intent, and Real-Time info with my Calendar

Last night, I was driving home from my sister’s place in the east bay, and after checking Google Maps and seeing all green roads (i.e. no traffic), I decided to take 880/Bay Bridge to get back to SF.  Little did I know it was green because there was no traffic on the bridge (due to the closure).  Had I known beforehand, I would have saved a full hour.  In a moment of tragic comedy (okay, it was not that bad, but good thing I had company), Caltrans decided to alert me after I passed the traffic-filled toll plaza on the San Mateo Bridge that the “Bay Bridge is closed, seek alt route.”  Thanks.

I’m not alone when I say I’m often running late to lunches and social gatherings.  Or oftentimes I get delayed when I need to travel out of the office for a meeting.  The one thing that’s constant in all these situations – my phone.  My mobile device always knows where I am.  My calendar always knows where I should be.  Why can’t these two merge?

Now, I know this is difficult on the iPhone since there are no background apps, making it difficult to keep updating location (though some folks have found workarounds) .  But on Android, this should be relatively easy.  With the proliferation of LBS, my phone knows where I am at all times.  It could tell, for example, that if it’s 8:45 AM and I am more than 15 miles away (or there’s traffic) from my 9 AM calendar appointment location, that I will be late.  It could then send a text/email to the other attendees (or at least the organizer).  Little late to dinner?  Perhaps an integration to OpenTable.  Flight late, meaning I can work later?  An integration to TripIt would be help.  Yes, many folks have admins to help with this, but it really should be automated.  Last night, my phone clearly could have known I was heading home to SF via the Bay Bridge, and alerted me of the closure (the news was all over Twitter, which I unfortunately did not check before leaving).

None of this is ground-breaking, or extremely tough to do.  Google is probably best positioned to do this, but perhaps there’s a startup already hard at work (I hope so).  I’m looking forward to the day when all these services are combined and I can comfortably know I’m being alerted.  In the meantime, good luck to Caltrans on the repairs, and all commuters who usually take the Bay Bridge daily.

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App Store is my favorite part of the iPhone

Apple announced today that over 2 billion apps had been downloaded – quite an amazing feat in little over one year.  Since I started using an iPhone, I realize that my favorite part is the App Store.  The touch screen and slim profile are nice, but it’s really the store that makes me love the device.  Perhaps I’m unique.  As a kid, I used to love getting the Sunday newspaper, especially on a snowy day, when the newspaper was cold and crisp.  After perusing the sports section and the comics, I loved leafing through the CompUSA and Circuit City flyers, especially the clearance and sales sections.  I could never buy enough cheap peripherals or hard drives.

The app store has taken over my previous excitement that I felt about the flyers.  Now I download Waze or buy Snapture rather than a trackball mouse or screen cleanser.  Instead of waiting for Sunday, I can just load up the store on a whim and see if there are any cool apps.  I wish there was more turnover in top apps, but the fact is that it’s far and away better than Blackberry’s App World (and I hear also Android’s and Palm’s, though I have limited first-hand experience).  It has the instant gratification element.  I wish that the iPhone allowed developers more flexibility, but as long as people keep releasing great apps, I will be interested.  And that’s the key – the moment another platform’s app store gets more traction, and their apps become more innovative than the iPhone’s apps in terms of quality and quantity, I will most likely switch over.

UPDATE: As I was loading up my blog to post this, I saw a very relevant argument that Blackberry needs to step up their efforts in the app store.  Worth a read…

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Career management

I gave a guest lecture 1.5 years ago to some juniors/seniors at MIT about career management.  It’s something I’ve spent some time on, so I thought I would attach the presentation below.  None of the information is ground-breaking, but I found it useful just to have it in one place, and it did help me land my current VC  job at Opus Capital.  I’m an especially big believer in the learning curve:

Learning Curve

Essentially, after 9-18 months doing the same thing (whether it’s a specific job, function, etc.), our learning begins to taper off logarithmically.  That doesn’t mean we stop learning, it just means we slow down.  The lesson is that we should look for new challenges to keep ourselves learning in an exponential fashion.  Here’s the full preso, feel free to comment or send me your thoughts:

Career Management Rohit Gupta 04142008 Final

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MLB App on the iPhone Rocks

In the spirit of the playoff stretch, I thought I would briefly mention how awesome the MLB app on the iPhone is.  The MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) group has done a great job over the past several years.  Since I’ve moved to the Bay area in 2005, I have been able to watch or listen to nearly any Red Sox game through my computer with (though I barely take advantage).   The limitation is you can’t watch in-market games (so if you are in the Bay area you can’t watch the Giants/Athletics) or nationally televised games.  But the quality is superb.  MLB was clearly ahead of the pack, but now Hulu has made the internet TV watching experience more mainstream.  This year, the service cost $79.95 for the season (you can sign up now for the remainder for $14.95).

What is extremely interesting is their iPhone app.  The app costs $9.99 (slightly steep, but worth it if you are a baseball fan), and has game tracking, video highlights, live audio, etc.  But if you are an subscriber, it lets you watch games live, on your phone.  And it works on the 3G network (which is huge), without much choppiness.  In fact, here’s an image of a Sox game via 3G:

MLB App on iPhone

Anyways, I thought I would mention it on my blog because I love showing it off.  It looks like they are running a promotion, so if you download the app, you can buy individual games for $.99 (without being an subscriber).  It’s definitely my favorite app on the iPhone, just wish I had time to use it more!

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Why Do We Need an Email Address AND a Phone Number?

There’s been a large movement online towards consolidating identity.  Single sign-on (SSO) online has been a goal for a long time, starting with Microsoft’s Passport and then the OpenID and Open Stack movement.  Facebook Connect, in its short life, has probably done a lot more to enhance the progress.  It’s not yet ubiquitous, but many sites support Facebook Connect to not only provide identity and authentication, but to let users interact with their friends through the site.  Google has a product as well, Friend Connect, which is a more open version (supports OpenID) though less popular flavor of the same thing.

What’s fascinating is how this movement is happening with the telephone as well, in a seemingly parallel track.  Convergence will happen sooner than we think.  I’m terrible at remembering numbers – but pretty soon we won’t need to.  That’s what makes Google owning GrandCentral (now Google Voice) fascinating – at some point, the phone number (at least the way we think of it today) will be superfluous.  The Palm Pre already connects to Facebook, Android phones to Google.  The phone number will essentially become the device ID.

This why owning the digital identity of the individual is so important to Facebook and Google.  At some point, reaching individuals via phone will be based entirely on a digital identifier, i.e. SSO will apply to phones, and our digital identity will be the conduit for communication.  It may be our email address (like it is with online payment), or our Facebook identity.  There are pros and cons of both, and clearly both companies want to be in the middle.  By being the broker of communication, they will become the telecom companies of the next generation.  A lot of this is obvious, but my hope is that it’s done in an open fashion.   I’m just looking forward to the day where all I will need is an online ID and that’s it.

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Short-Term Goals

Last week I attended an event here in the Valley with Aneesh Chopra, the CTO of the US.  Not too long ago, I was heavily involved in politics (worked on campaigns, etc), and technology was rarely talked about, so I was extremely curious about what he would have to say.  Turns out I learned a personal lesson as well.

As we all know, change can take forever in political organizations, as well as in large enterprises.  What struck me as refreshing from Chopra’s talk was the administration’s efforts to tackle short-term problems initially, with a broader vision in mind.  That way, at least some progress can be demonstrated.  The example he gave was that by September (90 days after they announced the idea), they would develop a new website that will allow immigrants to check their application status online.  While not fully satisfying his broader goal of immigration reform, it does represent a non-trivial first step to get there.

I took the lesson as something I should consider myself.  Oftentimes in our lives when we seek change, whether it’s personal or professional, we try to aim for the ultimate goal and get frustrated when we fail to achieve it quickly.  While I think we must have longer-term vision, I think having specific, short-term goals to get there is extremely helpful and helps us feel like we are making progress.

Anyways, I know this is off-topic, but I have been thinking about this recently, and trying to figure out different areas of my life where I need to define some short-term goals that will help me achieve my vision.

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