There are plenty of things that are bad about being connected to the internet and the social web all the time, but there are far more good things about it, including the relationships that it allows us to create with people we’ve never met
I have used a paradoxical phrase a great deal in recent months, because it gets at the heart of something important. The line is
Mobile first, Cloud first, Connection first.
These are the three legs of the stool for what most people call collaboration tools, which I call work tech nowadays.
We’ve moved pretty fast in the last few years in all three of these dimensions, and the result is a very different way of working, with an always connected workforce increasingly working from mobile devices, connected to coworkers through cloud-based services.
I have decreased the use of the term social except when talking specifically of social network effects. Instead, I prefer to talk about connection: the subtle but significant shift in communication style and substance when people frequently message each other, and remain aware of others status and location.
There have been a number of announcements in recent days and weeks that bring the shifting nature of work tech to the foreground.
- Ray Ozzie launches Talko, a chat tool based on voice, principally (see Small talk is big again).
- Microsoft announces Groups in Office 365 (see Microsoft rolling out Groups in Office 365: the end of Yammer?).
- Chat vendor Slack acquires Co-editor Spaces (see Slack acquires Spaces, a document co-editor).
I see a trend developing. As I have said several times in the course of the recent developments in the file sync-and-share market, the price of storing files in the cloud is trending toward zero. The place where those vendors will make their money in the future is increasingly going to be connection: the monthly fees they will charge for users to sync files, and to share with others.
Work technology is headed toward a stark fall out. On one side will be the giants — Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon — who will be providing the core platforms on which work tech resides. And increasingly, they will be the ones providing capabilities like productivity tools (office documents, etc.), file sync-and-share, and the hardware on which everything is running. On the other side we will have smaller competitors in various niches, like file sync-and-share (with Box, Dropbox, and two dozen others), work chat (Slack, Hipchat, etc.), task management (Trello, Asana, etc.), and specialized tools for HR, CRM, and customer support.
I maintain that whenever the giants enter a market, a consolidation takes place, like that which is going on right now in file sync-and-share. However, it is still possible that upstarts can come along with something really innovative, and redefine how some aspect of work tech is accomplished.
But I’ve started to believe that the conventional model of work tech — project-oriented group contexts, office files, activity streams, user profiles, following, and so on — is now a commodity. And therefore, that form and style of work connection is now going to trend toward zero price, too. Only the giants will be able to play, and all of them will be getting their money from other sources: Apple from hardware; Google from search, apps and increasingly hardware; Amazon from advanced cloud services and (maybe) hardware; and Microsoft from apps and cloud services (and not from hardware).
The tipping point for me was Microsoft’s announcement this week about Groups in Office 365, which provides work tech contexts and activity streams. This is going to cannibalize its Yammer revenue, but maybe they don’t care. They are in competition most clearly with Google in the enterprise, and they may be willing to lose the Yammer battle to win the Office war. Office docs are still where 80% of the information in the business sits. That’s a battle Microsoft wants — needs — to win.
But activity streams and work contexts are simply the file system and windows interface of this century: everyone is going to just get that for free.
And those design metaphors are all about connection, and sharing. That baseline is going to be free. So the Slacks and Talkos of the world will have to provide something really spectacular to be able to charge more than commodity pricing for their services, because the giants will be giving it all away, like the ketchup packets in fast food chains.
When you experience poor network connections, slow or sluggish performance, or even times when the device simply won’t respond, there are a wide range of symptoms that may have one thing in common, a simple solution.
Akamai’s Q3 State of the Internet Report shows a surprising rebound in connectivity in the U.S., motivated by high broadband adoption. Meanwhile, IPv6 uptake remains slow.
NASA has spent years perfecting data transmission between the Earth and space, starting in the 1960s with radio wave technology. The group is one step closer to seamless, lossless and speedy data transmission as it announced that the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) has used a pulse laser beam to create a record-breaking 622Mbps connection between the Earth and the Moon. That’s a connection much faster than ones found in the average American household traveling more than 200,000 miles. NASA hopes the laser technology will help provide increased image resolution and even 3D video transmission from deep space.
Events like Camp Grounded try to convince us that we will somehow become better people if we can just find a way to disconnect from the internet and our devices — but those things aren’t the real source of our problems.
I’m old enough to remember when being at home meant that you were off work. There was no logging in from home to check your mail. (If you wanted your mail, you had to drive into the office to pick it up.) Computers were big boxes that sat under your desk, not something you carried back and forth between home and the office with ease. Occasionally, you might bring home paperwork or something that you needed to read, but the constant connection to work was rare. Being online was something that I associated more with work than recreation, and it required conscious thought and effort.
Now, my phone has more processing power than my first work computer, and I am always connected. This connection isn’t just for work, or even for productivity. I rely on being connected for many routine personal tasks: dictionary, looking up random facts, amusement, recipes, etc. I jump back and forth seamlessly and no longer really think of it as being online or offline. I take it for granted that I can always be connected on a moment’s notice. Read More about Does the Distinction Between Online and Offline Still Matter?
A new proposal from Apple, highlighted today by AppleInsider, hints at their desire to provide ubiquitous connectivity to the internet through a series of tiny RF modules. At present, the only device in Apple’s lineup capable of providing wireless connectivity anywhere is the iPhone, supporting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPRS, 3G and other wireless data technologies. An RF transmitter could — in theory — perform a very similar function, passing the connection on to all your nearby short range devices (such as laptops, iPods etc).
The vision is that these devices would be present in your home, car, clothing and workplace to ensure that you’re never without a connection to the internet. Apple suggest that “When the user moves from one location to another, the host device may determine which RF module to access when requiring use of a long-range communications protocol.”
One potential use would be to provide a robust VoIP network, passing your call data from one transmitter to another as you move around with no loss of connection. They won’t necessarily be simply inanimate network devices either — other proposed features include a microphone, display (an iPhone controlling watch anyone?), or the ability to control nearby devices.
The possibilities here do seem endless. It would provide a real new wave of innovation in terms of connectivity and re-write the book on how devices can interact with each other. That said, it’s also a very complex and ambitious technology to pursue — leading the field in a system such as this doesn’t fit with what Apple have done in the past. Their oft used approach favors watching other companies fumble around with a new technology before launching their own competition which alleviates all the problems posed by competing devices.
It’s a ground breaking concept, and a space worth watching, but I don’t foresee any physical products in the near future.