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Posts tagged ‘Technology’

ChromeBook could supplant iPads in schools because of a simple contextual functionality

This is a cool story — it initially appeared on The Atlantic, but I saw it over on Quartz, and ostensibly, it’s about the educational technology sector, which is damn near close to $10 billion/year (up 2.5 percent from last year). There are a ton of players in this space, but the big ones (perhaps unsurprisingly) are Google (via the Chromebook) and Apple (via the iPad). Around 2010, the iPad was all the rage in the educational world — my sister-in-law is a teacher, and I remember going to the Apple Store with her a few times and her trying out different apps that she thought might resonate with her students. I know a ton of teachers — I was one, briefly — and they were all extolling the virtues of the iPad in classrooms. As the thinking went, it would make lessons more dynamic, incorporate more “fun” content, and lead to student presentations that more closely mirrored real-life job presentations and skill sets.

Now, though, Chromebook has somewhat caught up — the market share of Google and Apple in the ed-tech space is pretty similar, but the tide of the situation seems to be heading towards Chromebook — and one of the main reasons why is a simple functionality issue:

While nobody hated the iPad, by any means, the iPad was edged out by some key feedback, said Joel Handler, Hillsborough’s director of technology. Students saw the iPad as a “fun” gaming environment, while the Chromebook was perceived as a place to “get to work.” And as much as students liked to annotate and read on the iPad, the Chromebook’s keyboard was a greater perk—especially since the new Common Core online testing will require a keyboard.

This is interesting. Apple definitely has a lot of money, and the conventional logic behind how they became successful again is that they successfully marketed their stuff as “cooler” (stuff you had to have), which for a long time Google wasn’t doing (you can argue that Google’s ads the last 2-3 years have been more emotional and storytelling-centric than Apple’s, although that might be a post for another day).

Now, though, the simple fact that a Chromebook looks more like something you’d work on — and an iPad looks more like something you’d play on — is hitting Apple harder in the ed-tech space. By no means is ed-tech bigger than “overall consumer,” and like I said before, Apple’s doing fine.

There is also this, and remember — collaboration is something people will claim to value until the end of days:

Hillsborough educators also tend to emphasize collaboration, and they found that Google’s Apps for Education suite—which works on either device—was easier to use collaboratively on Chromebooks.

Whole thing’s interesting, though — Apple built itself on being sleek and cool (probably should have said “re-built itself”) and initially, that worked for them big-time in ed-tech (a $10 billion industry). Now Google is sleek and functional and cheap and performs well, and … you’re seeing that play out broadly too. Apple is now in the midst of what NASDAQ calls “respectable growth,” while Google is in a period that may lead to “hyper growth.” They’re looking at potentially 20 percent sales growth in 2015 and 2016, for example.

 

Cornell is trying to buck the Ivy League mold to a Silicon Valley place

Admittedly these are all stereotypes, but when you think about the Ivy League, you often think about guys (not talking about women here, per se) who want finance-type jobs in New York City or otherwise along the I-95 corridor. Please bear in mind I said that was a stereotype / generalization — many people leave the Ivy League and do different things, from the more standard medical/legal to non-profit and entrepreneurial projects. However, you don’t often see the Ivy League associated with tech. That’s more for the Stanford, Berkeley, MIT and Carnegie Mellon mold. But here comes Cornell, trying to change that:

Cornell University, with campuses in Ithaca, New York City and even Doha, Qatar, has roughly 11,100 alums and students, including Reisch, who identify themselves as business founders and owners on LinkedIn . Based on the ratio of these founders to the school’s total student body, Cornell ranks fourth on FORBES’ annual list of America’s most entrepreneurial colleges, just behind Stanford, MIT and Berkeley.

There’s a few components to this transition, all ID’ed within the Forbes article. You have the eLab, which is profiled in the embedded video above and is kind of the cornerstone of the entrepreneurial model at Cornell campuses, and now you have PopShop:

And Cornell Tech, launching on Roosevelt Island:

The whole idea is collaboration (that’s what PopShop is basically about) and incubator / startup generation models. You typically see these types of things more commonly in Seattle, San Francisco and Boston; New York, where most of Cornell’s alums are (about 250K) is more viewed as “finance land” (although again, that is a stereotype and many different people have many different gigs in NYC). So in the process of starting this entrepreneurial focus — which America does badly need right now — you’re also seeing a little bit of ‘the old-school model’ being turned on its head. Roosevelt Island as a center of innovation isn’t something that generations of NYC kids (of which I was one) will understand. Rather, they’ll think about it as a play they did Little League. Just like Hangar One, though, context often changes as real estate becomes available.

It’s currently end of days in Siberia and the Zhejiang province of China, apparently

Overnight, a waterway in China turned a blood red color — shades of a little Ghostbusters II action, perhaps — and we’re up to two (as opposed to one) deep craters in Siberia, in a place locals had already called “the end of the world.”

Let’s start with China; the explanation here may be a bit easier. If you scroll down on that first link, you’ll find this nugget of information:

Xiao said there is a paper manufacturer, a food coloring company and clothing-maker a long the river. The bureau is still investigating the incident.

All three seem potentially likely culprits for a river turning red, but the middle one is probably the leading candidate.

The Siberia story is a bit weirder. Here’s something from The Washington Post:

Locals can’t seem to get their stories straight over what happened, he explained. “According to local residents, the hole formed on September 27, 2013. Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially the place was smoking and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.”

A celestial body? Sheesh. We are down the rabbit hole here.

There is a more logical explanation, potentially — although it doesn’t necessarily bode well for the future of our planet either. According to The Weather Channel’s website:

About 10,000 years ago, the area was a sea, and a mixture of salt, sand, gas and water froze into ice underground, Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Center scientist Anna Kurchatova told the Siberian Times. As the globe has warmed, she said, the ice is melting and the gas is being released, causing an effect like a champagne cork popping off a bottle.

These underground explosions are causing the holes, Kurchatova believes.

The holes may foreshadow bigger problems for our planet in the near future, scientists worry. Permafrost around the Arctic contains methane and carbon dioxide, and both could be dangerous to our environment if released, according to a report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. As long as the permafrost remains frozen, the report adds, this isn’t a concern, but climate models have painted a grim future for rising temperatures in the Arctic.

Yea — this is all fairly depressing. It doesn’t necessarily mean Loki and others are arriving on the Earth any time soon (I saw a Silver Surfer joke on Facebook too), but it doesn’t paint the greatest picture of where our planet is headed either. Here’s a kicker:

We’re in for more of this leaky, hole-y, drunken world. Per National Geographic: “Some climate models have predicted that most permafrost could melt by the end of the century.”
All reminds me a little of this:
And to a lesser extent, this:
Interestingly, superhero disaster movies are contextually quite similar to basic climate change issues.

 

Could acqui-hiring work outside the tech space?

The basic concept of “acqui-hiring” is pretty simple — as more tech talent (primarily that’s the industry where this happens) opts for start-ups over bigger companies, the bigger companies find it harder to acquire talent the conventional way (i.e. recruiting and sourcing). So … they simply acquire the smaller company and lock the engineers / research and development / content / mobile / eta al people into 2-4 year contracts. Yahoo is doing this right now: since 2012 when Marissa Mayer took over, they’ve acquired 26 companies. Only about 4-5 of those, most notably Tumblr, are still operating as stand-alone companies. Most have been merged in with Yahoo as a whole, and then there’s this:

By necessity, many bigger companies are recruiting by simply buying the smaller companies that employ the talent they need and lock the engineers in to multi-year contracts (Yahoo, for instance, signs “purchased” employees to agreements lasting two to four years).

Similar to what I wrote above: you buy the company and, essentially, you buy the employees too.

In a way, this makes a lot of sense and can benefit both sides. Employees can go and chase that start-up environment for a while, and then once there’s a user base and utility for what they put their heart and sweat into, they get swept up in a place that can probably pay them more. Employers can avoid the many pitfalls of conventional hiring and get their talent from an organization that’s already been proving itself. Win-win, right?

Because the talent strategy process can be a bit of a wreck, one wonders — could this roll up to industries beyond tech, where it’s more common? Sure, on surface, it could: let’s say a company like Proctor and Gamble acquires a smaller analytics company because it wants some of their talent. Bam, that’s an acqui-hire.

Part of the problem in this domain is how people think about hiring. I’ve talked about this before, but here’s something more powerful from Harvard Business Review on the same topic:

Ironically, many marketers don’t think of recruiting as a marketing challenge. Instead, they think of it as an HR issue. But acquiring and retaining talent is really no different than acquiring and retaining customers.

Most marketers would never think to execute a customer acquisition strategy without a clear value proposition, segmentation, pricing, collateral, sales enablement, metrics, and brand. Yet when it comes to talent acquisition, we forget these marketing basics.

This perturbs me to no end sometimes (not very often, but sometimes). Everyone who works in HR in most companies would say, “Oh, we don’t deal with marketing except to hire them.” Marketers would say, “We don’t deal with HR except to get on-boarded and learn about benefits and compensation from them.” But in reality, they’re somewhat in the same space — storytelling, or “brand ambassadors,” or whatever you want to call it. People should work together on hiring — because at core, hiring is all about (a) what is the brand’s story and work and (b) how do we determine who fits into that — as opposed to silo’ing the whole thing. Remember: your products make the money, sure (in most business models), but your people make the products better. Hence, your people are more important than your products and processes, even if that’s hard to conceptualize from a managerial standpoint.

I think acqui-hiring could work more outside of tech, especially with the advent of “Big Data” as a thing (established companies need people who are better at the data side). You see that with marketing and advertising “small shops” being bought up here and there — same with content. LinkedIn just bought a start-up to help with their content side — that’s important for them, as people need a reason to be on the site aside from looking for jobs or looking to fill jobs (although their content strategy has unintended consequences too).

Regardless, with the way the hiring process is semi-broken right now, more verticals and industries should be thinking about acqui-hiring. If you have the money and can find a small shop in your space that fills a need, get after it. There will be challenges around organizational culture and melding a “start-up vibe” with a “corporate vibe,” sure — but those can be ironed out in time, and it might be worth it to get the right people you need in-house based off what they’ve already proven. That’s better than the current resume model. 

 

Satya Nadella and Microsoft just hit one of the all-time corporate pivot moments

Remember back in about 1996, when there were all sorts of pre-Internet memes about how, if Bill Gates stumbled across a $20 on the street, it actually wasn’t worth his time to bend over and pick it up? Everyone thought they were a monopoly over at Microsoft, Apple was down, Google was still in a garage, and … Redmond, WA owned the tech world for as far as the eye could see.

Flash forward to today: Microsoft just laid off 14 percent of its employees, predominantly in the mobile (Nokia) space. The pivot of all pivots — MBA jargon alert! — is coming. A company that gave the world Microsoft Office and owned the PC market only shipped 14 percent of the world’s computers last year. The Nadella hire was awesome from a “poach vs. develop” standpoint, and they may need that internal knowledge more than ever now. They just owned the World Cup — data science space! — but that doesn’t pay for 10K+ employees, per se.

To go back to something from the previous paragraph, “corporate pivot” refers to, essentially, switching your focal point. Oftentimes, MBA-type case studies revolve around this idea centrally. Either a company adapted (Netflix, for example) or it didn’t (Kodak, for example) — and that’s the line where everything can be defined. It’s honestly amazing to think that a company once as big and dominant as Microsoft — and still big and dominant in many ways, honestly — is facing such a pivot.

It seems like the focus is going to be “productivity and platforms” for the “mobile-first, cloud-first” world. That’s good that Microsoft has realized this. It’s also possible that Office for iPad might become the future of the productivity market. Nadella’s base summary of the “new” Microsoft is that “we help people get stuff done.” In a world that is insanely focused on how busy everyone is, that’s not a bad marketing strategy (cue “The Essentialist Movement”). Nadella seems to be aiming for simple synchronicity across multiple devices. As PC World explains:

That, of course, will be aided by Microsoft’s machine learning and ubiquitous computing endeavors—two initiatives that Nadella has been keen to push during his short reign thus far. Those are basically fancy buzzwords for using big data and cloud computing to help you in your everyday life and delivering a seamless experience across devices, the results of which we’re already starting to see in the cross-device syncing capabilities of Windows 8 and SkyDrive, as well as Microsoft’s recently unveiled Universal Apps that span Windows 8 and Windows Phone alike.

It seems like Nadella and his core leadership team made a good bet here — if they can bring true leadership to the cloud space and dominate the productivity space, they could stay in that race with Google, Facebook, et al around the various aspects of tech. But it is interesting to see such a pivot, and only 20 years or so after they were the company in tech.

 

Can humans trust robots? No … how about we ask whether robots can trust humans, eh?

hitchBOT is going to try and cross Canada this summer as a hitchhiker. Why that’s novel: it’s ostensibly a robot made out of a bucket.

“This is both an artwork and social robotics experiment,” Zeller and Harris told me in an email. “Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots, e.g. as helpers in our homes. But this project takes it the other way around and asks: can robots trust human beings?”

There’s more about the project here, and the bot is already on Twitter:

hitchBOT is also on Instagram, if you were interested.

This is a cool way to turn the central idea of the next 50 or so years — can we truly trust the machines? (cue panic about a Turing Test) — into a social project across a sun-dappled summer in Canada. I think hitchBOT is cute, and that’s going to help it in its journey — humans don’t destroy cute little things, in general – but trying to traverse an entire nation when you’re powered by car lighters and Wikipedia might be a tall order. I’m rooting for him (her?), though.

 

Maybe this is why everyone you ever talk to seems to be in the process of redesigning their website

Have two job interviews this week, and am also working freelance for another group right now — in all three cases, the organizations admit their website is “rough” and want to see a re-design of it. They have coders/developers and they have content people, but they aren’t sure exactly what to focus on to make it the right experience for whatever their core business function is (provided that’s been defined for them). I’d say in the last 10 months, I had 60+ interviews where some group was re-designing a website. I always kind of figured it was an offshoot of the popular corporate game of changing things on a dime for no real reason except that someone saw something in some other place that looked better than the something we have, or whatever the case may be. But now I’m thinking about it a little differently — first off, there are ideal factors in terms of how content gets seen and shared, but there’s also this, from the Forrester blogs and an interview with John Maeda, who works on design with Kleiner Perkins and eBay:

What is now clear in the consumer technology space is that we instinctively know that we don’t need more storage or speed because we don’t have any real use for it. In absence of the normal cues of “better,” which used to be as simple as knowing the CPU’s clock speed, or how much RAM it has, or how big a screen to pair with it, we now are choosing based upon something else: design. Because more computing power no longer makes technology feel better — in fact, the pile-on of new features that Moore’s Law has enabled makes us feel confused. And in this new universe, we have come to count on design to cut through the clutter and make things feel better. In the past couple of years, we have seen increasing consensus around this point, so it will be interesting to see where that takes us.

Design = not necessarily about beauty on face, but about cutting through clutter. Agree with that 1800 percent. Tons of these organizations I’ve talked to want flashy things or social buttons or XYZ colors — and those are all important — but the real key is: when someone gets to that site, do they know what the purpose of the organization is, and do they know where they should go (where you want them to go)? Remember, Google is perhaps the most popular and relevant website of the modern era. At its core, it’s just a box that you type in. Simplicity. And make things feel better.

 

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