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Silicon Valley Early Adopter Tech Geek Blog



Last Build Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2016 01:34:02 PST

 



Real Valley Stories: The SVP of HR and a Bunch of Lawyers Will See You Now

Thu, 21 Apr 2016 17:00:00 PDT

Editor’s Note: Part 11 in an irregular series of stories from my many years in Silicon Valley. Part 10 talked about the time I left my job for a competitor and rescinded the offer. This time, a story involving industrial espionage, the SVP of HR and way too many lawyers.If I could show the leads from the lawyers’ lists were gone from our system,we’d be on a path to redemption.The day had started innocently enough. I was hosting our company’s public relations firm at the office, as we worked with our product marketing and management teams on interacting with press. At a break, I stepped outside of the conference room and found the longtime senior vice president of HR waiting for me — usually not a good sign.“Louis, please come into my office,” he said, with a tone that made it obvious this wasn’t really a choice. So I followed.We entered his office, only to find another man in a suit was waiting. The HR SVP shut the door behind us, and then turned back to me. “Louis, on the date of (whatever it was), did you upload a list of contacts to Salesforce.com from (an account manager)?” “I Don’t Recall”I paused. In my marketing role over the last few years, I had used Salesforce.com practically every day. It was our customer contact tool that hit all aspects of our business, from prospecting, to forecasting and demand generation. So it sounded like something I’d do. But I couldn’t tell him yes or no without looking.I heard the words escape my mouth as bluntly as Oliver North in the Iran Contra hearings: “I don’t recall.”But I promised to check — not knowing exactly what they were expecting to find. Somewhat shaken, but mostly mystified, I opened up Salesforce.com, logged in, did a query, and found I had uploaded a list of contacts into the system on that date. But it didn’t have any significance for me than any other list or date. It was just one of the regular requests I’d gotten from our director of Sales Operations, who often asked me to do the imports or set up reports in the system that she was responsible for, but didn’t completely understand.So I went back to the SVP of HR, a little more nervous now, and said that yes, I had uploaded the list on that day. So what was going on? Unwittingly Aiding Corporate EspionageIt turned out that, unbeknownst to me, an account manager acquired a customer list from his previous employer, complete with contacts and titles, and shared it with his inside sales representative — whose job it was to email and call these prospects to sell them our products. The ISR then sent the list to the Director of Sales Ops, who forwarded the request on to me. So while I had been fulfilling a standard request, I was, in effect, aiding what amounted to corporate theft.The SVP of HR was clearly not too excited with me about my role in the upload. But he was more annoyed by the director’s not investigating the source of the list, and her not being in tune enough with Salesforce.com to do the upload herself — not to mention his being beyond furious with the account manager and ISR who had put us in this mess. Unsurprisingly, the suited man in the HR SVP’s office was on the company’s legal team, and our competitor wanted us raked over the coals for the impropriety.Immediately, on the spot, the account manager responsible for obtaining the list was fired. The ISR, whom I considered a friend, was also fired, knowing what the contacts contained and calling against the list. He packed his personal items into a box, took a very lonely stroll trough the parking lot — and I never saw him again.Running Queries to Solve the Whole MessNow I was back in the HR office. Having somewhat absolved myself, our efforts turned to limiting the damage. The press training boondoggle I’d been working on with the PR team was practically a memory at this point. I told them they could leave whenever they were done as I was busy, but didn’t tell them just why I was now occupied.The HR SVP, and our attorney, wanted to know if I could find all the records that [...]



Stepping Out With the Fitbit Blaze Smartwatch

Fri, 11 Mar 2016 12:45:00 PST

It has been years since I wore a watch regularly. Considering I’m rarely more than an arm’s length away from any smart device, I’d weaned myself away long ago — relying instead on my phone, laptop or tablet to give the time. And in the past few years, with many different smartwatch options popping up, from Apple’s offering and an array of Android Wear watches, I’ve browsed regularly, but not yet found the perfect fit for me for both utility and simplicity — until Fitbit announced the Blaze in January.In the ensuing two months, I’ve been captivated by the Blaze watch.Most smartwatches fall into two camps really, as I see it — too big or too tied to iOS. While this Christmas, I got my wife the Android Wear powered Moto 360, and she likes it, I didn’t get myself a matching set for two reasons — the first being that I hoped the watch’s profile would get even more slim in a newer generation, and second, I am really seeking functionality that goes beyond what I already get from my various Android devices — instead of just being a mirror of activity I already knew.The Fitbit Blaze was different.Not only did the Fitbit Blaze immediately extend my Fitbit activity tracking lifestyle, on which I’ve racked up millions of steps and hundreds of connected friends over the last few years, but the physical appearance of the device was slim and direct. Clean to look at. Light weight. And it didn’t try to do too much.The Blaze is, at first, a timepiece, and second, a fitness tracker, easily displaying your daily step totals, heart rate, and calories burned, much like any other Fitbit device, but in a new and attractive way that got my attention unlike any of their other armbands ever have.Also, in contrast to other smartwatches, the Blaze’s $199 price was actually very reasonable, compared with the least expensive Apple watch at $349 or the Moto 360 Sport at $299. While you can get cheaper options, like the Asus ZenWatch 2 for $149, you’ve got the idea.So over the last couple months, I visited the Fitbit Blaze site so often it became one of the saved home pages on my Chrome browser’s start page — just in case I wanted to look again. And as March approached, when Fitbit said device would finally ship, I finally took the plunge and bought one. I bought the Blaze on the 18th and it shipped only two days later.And — get this. It shipped ahead of schedule. Like weeks ahead of schedule. So instead of having to wait all the way into March to get my hands on the Blaze, Fitbit exceeded expectations, like they always have for me, and the device showed up at my doorstep on February 23rd. So for just over the last two weeks, I’ve been tracking my steps and heart rate during all waking hours on my the Blaze. Like any good data-driven geek (I work on Google Analytics, so data-driven equals yes), for the bulk of the first two weeks, I wore both my new Blaze watch and carried around the Fitbit One tracker I’ve used for the last few years. I believe Fitbit is the gold standard for step counts and daily activity, so if the two were to dramatically vary, that would not be cool. From what I’ve found, the watch is within 5% of daily step count from the One. Like any good ego-driven activity enthusiast, my bias as to what number is “correct” is the higher one. But the same 2,000 or so steps still count as a mile and so on. As for the features of the watch, they are very easy to grok. The leftmost button on the included band and housing swaps between screens. Or you can just tap the Blaze with your finger and swipe left or right. The first option is their “Today” feature, which captures your step total, displays your current and resting heart rate, your accumulated mileage, estimated calories burned, and floors climbed on the day. You can also swipe track individual exercise activities, like Run, Bike, Weights, Treadmill, Elliptical and Workout. I’m no gym rat, so I probably won’t use most of those, but for others who do, it’s valuable. The Fitbit [...]



We Need Smart and Personal Streams, Not Just The Latest Updates

Thu, 11 Feb 2016 15:30:00 PST

Once again, the tech web is aflutter about a proposed change in Twitter’s timeline — as they have finally made a choice to offer more than a simply chronological feed of updates displayed in the order they were posted. While a chronological order of tweets can be considered a hallmark definition of what Twitter is today, and truthfully, one of its most addictive features as each new Tweet rolls in, it’s also a detriment to those who aren’t ready to be constantly hooked to the information IV drip. My 2010 Summary of a Personalized Web futureTwitter is 10 years old now. That’s fairly mature from a Web services standpoint. Its peers, LinkedIn and Facebook, are 14 and 12 respectively. The next generation? Pinterest is just over six. Instagram nearly six. Snapchat is five. And yet it often seems as people are still waiting for Twitter to make that big leap forward to properly sit at the adults’ table. Twitter as a Media Network, not a Social Network Ex Twitter PR and comms guy Sean Garrett, now running his own firm, commented yesterday that Twitter’s been done a disservice by being labeled as a social company instead of as a media network. Taking that summary seriously, it clarifies one of the major needs for a personal and intelligent ranking of content, rather than a raw feed of the latest updates. Media companies don’t just give you the very latest updates in order, with no external curation. Instead, they sort it, rank it and deliver them from the most important to least important — whether their medium is television, radio, print or online. For the most aggressive media consumers, like myself, the idea of seeing content out of order may seem like pure heresy. We read every email, read every blog post in Feedly, and generally catch up on Twitter to the point where we left off. Scrambling that up seems abhorrent. But we’re not normal. We’re seeing that from the tippy top 1% of the bell curve, and hoping the rest of the world will catch up to us. But not only won’t they, but they don’t need to, and we should stop expecting it. A successful network has an obligation to give its users the best possible experience and do it instantly. But surfacing the right updates for the right person at the right time is a tricky Venn diagram to figure out, be it based on the users’ topics of interest, their affection for the person posting the content, the recency of that content, and obviously, a mix of all those signals and more. Just sitting back and showing the latest stuff only solves for one of those qualities: recency — completely ignoring what I like, who I trust and so on. Personalized Content Leads to Happier Users, More Usage From 2009 to 2011, I worked with my6sense, first as a third party consultant, and later as the company’s VP of Marketing, before I joined Google. Their app surfaced content from your social streams in a personalized way, just for you, based on your own implicit behaviors — what you clicked on, what you chose not to, how long you read something, etc. The more you used the application, the smarter it got, and eventually, we would know your interest patterns so well, that we could take our user model and apply it to any stream on the web. my6sense for TwitterIn early 2011, we delivered a Chrome extension for Twitter, which took the smarts we’d developed and displayed the results of that effort on the Twitter website — giving you two options: your standard timeline, ordered chronologically, and a smart, personalized timeline, from my6sense. By no means were we the first company to try and bring sense to a social stream. In fact, in 2008, FriendFeed (RIP) offered users personalized recommendations as a feature to their service, aimed for those who’d been away and wanted to quickly catch up. But one aspect important to both of these examples is that they gave the user a choice. You could quickly switch between a chronological feed, which was the default, and the smart feed, personalized to your inter[...]



Running a Social Fantasy Stock Portfolio With Google Finance

Tue, 09 Feb 2016 10:00:00 PST

It’s no secret the stock market has been more than a little bit rough this year. After years of growth and optimistic enthusiasm about Internet giants, promising biotech pioneers who aimed to change the world, and starry eyed hope for unprofitable unicorns, 2016 has seen record setting declines through January, with the average company losing double digit percentages in value, and less fortunate market caps slashed by more than half in less time than Noah and his family were said to have spent on an ark. But amid the daily headlines screaming with bold red letters, the overnight alerts about instability in China, and debate over whether the low price of oil will halt the rise of the electric car, a few friends of mine and I have been running a parallel stock game of sorts which makes the daily punishments of whiplash just a little more acceptable, and maybe even fun. When the leader is down 13%, you know it’s been a rough year already.The starting rules sounded simple: Start with a virtual $100,000 (any number works, but $100k sounds big) Pick ten stocks or commodities Invest $10k in each one, either short or long. Hold those picks for a full year. No trading. After a full year, the person with the greatest balance wins. We all started with 100k, but we’d all beg to get there now.The rules, especially the counterproductive block on any mid-year trading or selling, seem simple. And the twelve month horizon may have you believe it’s a set it and forget it game — just plug in the tickers and come back to see how you did. But the reality is far different. Six different people with different backgrounds, who claim to know what they’re doing and have more than an average level of experience in the market, each delivered widely differing picks, and now we’re keeping an eye on sixty different securities, watching how they move in the face of some pretty strong headwinds.One portfolio bet 10 for 10 on small cap biotech stocks, crossing fingers for a binary spike on approvals from the FDA, but has had absolutely no luck, down more than 40 percent on the year already — needing a near double to get back to par. Others of us picked large cap tech leaders like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Apple and Amazon, and have also seen declines around 20%. Solar picks like SolarCity, SunEdison and SunRun? Down 33%. One contrarian portfolio is hoping for turnarounds from Yahoo!, HP, Chipotle and Yelp! and faring no better. Pretty much the only things that have kept above water in 2016 are retail picks like Macy’s and Walmart, old media like Time Warner, and a few opportunistic shorts. (Disclosures: I work at Google and also own SunRun stock in real life. No other biases are assumed or intended.) The Contrarian Account is Down TooThat none of us predicted a market correction makes us seem more than a little daft, but even though we’ve managed to take $600,000 and turn it into just over $450,000 in about a month’s time, the daily ups and downs and charts created by the automated spreadsheet have turned what should be a tragedy into a thrilling contest that plays out five days a week. How Google Finance and Google Sheets Run This Game Stock portfolios are typically a secure and individual endeavor. They’re not made for other people viewing, and they’re not social. But when my dad wagered I couldn’t invest his money better than the 3.5% annual return he expected from a money market account in 2014, I had to find a way to prove I could. And I happened upon Google Finance’s integration with Google Sheets — plugging in my own ten picks that summer, and eventually delivering 10% or so gains on the year. That experience had me getting deeper into Google Finance calls, dabbling with App Script, and setting up the game we have today. Step 0: Make your picks. For this game, I set an arbitrary date of January 1st, 2016, and had all participants enter their selections before market trading on the New Year, so that when the market opened, [...]



Listen Different And Learn

Thu, 14 Jan 2016 16:45:00 PST

For most people, new ideas and perspectives make us uncomfortable. It’s easier and less taxing to surround ourselves with people who agree with our worldview, and reinforce our way of thinking, to make us believe we are correct. We self-select our communities, both in the physical world, and the online space, and these friends or peers become an extension of our own identity.A byproduct of this selection process is that our communities end up looking a lot like us and behaving like us. Techies follow techies. White guys talk to white guys. Democrats engage with Democrats. While the Internet has a virtually infinite pool of people and ideas to choose from, we easily ignore, unfollow, mute or block those voices and appearances that we don’t identify with or make us question our position.A Divided WebTen years ago, I saw this polarization coming, saying the web was dividing in what I called a “bifurcation”:“It is human nature to seek out a community of peers and equals, of those who yearn for the same things or have parallel experience… (and thus) polarized and wholly separate communities will grow and thrive.” — Feb. 23, 2006As a white male in Silicon Valley for the better part of two decades, my world view is a very specific one. I know that my experiences don’t always match people who don’t look like me, or whose LinkedIn profile looks vastly different. And over the last decade of participating in many different social channels, (Google+, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) my established audience I’ve curated has ended up looking a lot like me. It’s very white. It’s very male. It’s full of people from Silicon Valley, who love tech, and, in most cases, vote Democrat.But I know that’s not good enough. To close ones eyes to the rest of the world means also closing my ears, and my mind. Last May, I was especially struck, and angered, honestly, by how the Silicon Valley community seemed especially blind and silent on the topics of racial bias in our country’s police forces, which sparked unrest in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. While protesters loudly called for improvements in their world that begged for equality, millionaire VCs speculated about unicorn valuations and other techies complained about high rents in San Francisco — which don’t seem all that important in comparison.Amid this noise and seeming tone-deafness from the public profiles of many active Valley participants, we have an ongoing cry for help and recognition and value from women in tech, who correctly see an uneven playing field that throws roadblocks at their career progress, polluted by landmines of sexism, bias and the good old boy networks — as well as a call for an expanded level attention to increase diversity in all our ranks, with diversity meaning not just women, but people of color (POC). Exploring New Streams for New VoicesSo over the last year-plus, I’ve actively tried to do a much better job of listening and engaging with people who aren’t like me. And this simple act of listening opens my eyes every day to things I may have missed — while making those topics that I might have previously ignored become critically important to me as an individual.Twitter Analytics shows my audience is overwhelmingly male. Not a surprise.As I still love tech, and still identify a geek, my bias and interests remains there, but I’ve aggressively opened my eyes and ears to more women voices and more black voices — especially on Twitter, where the following model is very lightweight, and the stream’s recommendation system smartly brings me new people who I may never have previously discovered.On Twitter, as of today, I follow just under 600 accounts, including brands. But by no means is my stream a perfect picture of diversity and equality. So I created a list that explicitly expunged all the men and all the brands from my stream — carefully only showing tweets from the 170 or so wome[...]



Layoffs and Loyalty in a Liquid Valley

Tue, 13 Oct 2015 22:30:00 PDT

Layoffs Are Painful. Even if the X Doesn’t Land on You(Image: Dreamstime)In seventeen years of work in Silicon Valley, I’ve only left a job by choice once — in 2011, when I made the jump from being a partner at my own consulting group to join Google. The other three times, my employer informed me my time was up, and at that my services were no longer needed, loyalty be damned.In two cases, the startup I worked for ran out of funding, and once, the new VP wanted to change things up, bringing in somebody they previously worked with instead of going with the team they inherited. When it comes to a debate between the company succeeding versus your being comfortable, the CEO will never pick you.Layoffs Suck.Layoffs initiate feelings of numbness and outrage, fear and self-doubt. People cry at almost every layoff, even if their jobs were spared. Others yell or curse under their breath as they are escorted out of the building, having already handed in their security badges and seeing their work files, along with hundreds or thousands of email threads, no longer relevant, slip from their view.I’ve seen companies hire armed guards to patrol the building, in case of retaliation, and once arrived at work the morning after a reduction in force to find a brick had been hurled through the HR VP’s office window, making the premises a crime scene.Layoffs suck. Getting laid off sucks. Seeing coworkers lose their jobs sucks. Laying people off.. sucks. When a company cuts staff, they are admitting something has failed and needs to change. They’re not growing fast enough. Too many people were hired to do not enough things. Something isn’t working. Today, Twitter laid off 336 people. That’s a lot. Not the 30,000 reported layoffs at HP, but a significant number, one that wasn’t supposed to happen at one of the tech industry’s most discussed companies.In recent months, gallons of digital ink have been spilled on the frothy technology market we see today. Talk of unicorns and skyrocketing Bay Area housing prices focuses a microscope on the top one percent of success, while many on the outside look in wonder why they haven’t joined the vaunted three comma club. Effort and skill aren’t enough. You need luck too.I’ve been lucky enough (so to speak) to be present at a number of layoff rounds in my near two decades in the Valley. Let’s talk about it. It’s human.May 1999After eight months as an E-commerce analyst at a low-revenue startup during the dotcom heyday, my boss rolled up to my desk in his chair, and in halting English, crowned by his Russian accent, told me the lead investor was done with his little experiment, and we, in two weeks, would no longer have jobs.His crowning quote: “You and Ferris (my colleague) are laid off. I am fired.”More: Real Valley Stories: You Stay, Your Boss Has to GoJanuary 2001Somehow I escaped that layoff with my desk intact. I took a different role with the sister company in the same building. While that was unusual, and I put in nearly two solid years at the company, it too fell on hard times.Our $1 million in seed funding (at a $10 million valuation) was running dry. By the end of 2000, we were asked to work without salary, waiting for a follow-on round that never came.A few weeks into the new year, my boss, the VP of Marketing, called me into a meeting to say he was laid off. In fact, all of sales, business development, and marketing, myself included, were done. Only the engineers would stay behind to clean up the mess.I lingered around the full workday, wasting time on the Internet, until a friend flew into the San Francisco Airport, as we were set to go to MacWorld Expo the next day. He helped me lug my PowerMac G4 and monitor to my car, and I was done. The next day we saw Steve Jobs introduce iTunes.November 2001After a brief three weeks out of work, which seemed like an eternity, I landed at a fast-talking hardware storage startup with $[...]



Having a Clear Call to Action Can Drive Real Results

Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:45:00 PDT

As a member of the Google Analytics team, I regularly field questions at events or on our social channels about how online and offline activity can drive results, and what metrics have value. As no two businesses are the same, it's critical to determine the status of your company and find if your activity can bring impact to results that matter, be they clicks, leads, registrations, opportunities or real revenue. When the goals are determined, and you have stakeholder buyin, then you can start your work. (See: Measure What Matters Most)Among the most common questions I see are those around driving visitors to a specific call to action. Most websites have many different routes for visitors to take, and the many choices can be overwhelming. But in some other cases, only one outcome is required, and all efforts should be taken to get the user there.Nearly 15 years ago, I held a role with the inconspicuous title of eMarketing Manager at a company whose product line was in stealth mode. As we approached the launch date, our small marketing team debated how we were going to handle the first version of our website, and just what our calls to action were going to be.Most Sites Have Many Calls to Action, Which Distracts VisitorsWe knew our product would have a long sales cycle of more than six months, and the average sales price would be north of a hundred thousand dollars per unit. We didn't yet have any customer success stories, and our target markets were an educated guess, based on how we thought the product would perform, and colleagues' experience selling competitive products. We didn't even really have photos of the hardware we expected to sell, as that too was a work in progress.But what we did have was a launch date, to coincide with the announcement of our product and corresponding news coverage. We had to ship a site with our new company name, and it had to give just enough information to keep people interested, even if we couldn't deliver all the details.The BlueArc product page in February of 2001 (via Archive.org)After some debate, we decided to make the website a massive demand generation tool, with every page driving us to a single call to action: Sign up for our newsletter. Every page had a button on the sidebar encouraging new signups, and where data was scarce, we had links to the newsletter. Even before we'd sent out a single issue, we had thousands of registered emails, ready to be updated.Our Solution: A Single Call to Action from All PagesOur monthly newsletter, which shipped with my name as the sender for more than eight years, gave us a consistent customer database to talk to for years, and was responsible, in the long run, for prospects, ongoing communication to soft leads, and updating the press and analysts.This result was from keeping our mission simple. Instead of trying to dazzle visitors with things to download, an array of phone numbers to call, or videos to watch, we just took the casual visitor coming from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and gave them the chance to hear from us again, so that when our message was ready for them, we would have that channel in place.When you know what to measure, driving toward a goal becomes easier. And if you don't, not only are you confused, but so are your users. This is a lesson I learned firsthand a decade and a half ago.Disclosures: I work at Google on Google Analytics, and worked at BlueArc from 2001-2009.More: louisgray.com | RSS | E-mail | Cell: 408 646.2759 [...]



Tech Company Shifts Position Sunnyvale as Major Hub for Next Decade

Thu, 30 Jul 2015 11:20:00 PDT

In Silicon Valley, some of the most prosperous cities and most sought after zip codes to live, raise a family and send kids to school, are directly dependent on the proximity to corporate headquarters of the leading technology companies. As some of the biggest companies are running out of room in their headquarter cities, the resulting demand for continued growth is putting pressure on neighboring communities. Sunnyvale looks like ground zero for this next wave.Cupertino, home to Apple, the most valuable company on the planet, has a median home price north of $1.7 million dollars, up 15% year over year. Mountain View, home to Google, has a median home price above $1.3 million, up 20% year over year. And these high marks significantly trail the more upscale suburban locales such as Palo Alto ($2.44 million average) and Los Altos ($2.65 million average). Quietly sitting wedged between Mountain View and Cupertino, in a state of tug of war between Apple, Google and more companies, like Yahoo!, LinkedIn and NetApp, is Sunnyvale ($1.28 million average). Sunnyvale has not only seen the fastest increase in average home prices over the last 12 months, but is set up to see even more demand as jobs flow to the city. As a biased Sunnyvale homeowner and area employee, this is very interesting to watch.Bay Area Housing Prices: High and IncreasingAs the total land available to new workers entering the area or existing employees looking to leave apartments and find a home near their office stays static, the old rules of supply and demand are taking hold. Sunnyvale home prices are up 23% year over year, at a pace slightly above the surrounding neighborhoods, higher than the aforementioned Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos, but even quicker than Facebook's home, Menlo Park (up 17% y/y), or San Francisco, home to Twitter and many others (up 13% y/y).Sunnyvale's Average Increase Highest Over the Last 12 MonthsSo why is this? And who cares? As somebody who has been working in the Valley since the rise and fall of the first dotcom boom in the late 1990s, I've seen ebbs and flows in the economy impact hiring, funding, area traffic and housing prices. Big names that once were major land owners and employers, like Sun Microsystems and SGI, can virtually disappear. But when large companies present stability and prosperity, they can be a magnet for skilled workers. And in the last two years, you have seen major announcements from Valley leaders, like Google, Apple and LinkedIn, announcing new campuses or building into Sunnyvale, as offices in neighboring Mountain View and Cupertino become saturated.While much press has been spilt over Apple's amazing spaceship campus under construction in Cupertino, what few note is that this work, taking over an older Hewlett Packard lot, is snugly cornered on the border of Sunnyvale city limits, and the company has been snapping up buildings all over the city to manage growth. LinkedIn has been building sparkling new buildings in downtown Sunnyvale and looks poised to move thousands of workers there soon. Google has made headlines as they've taken over buildings from Juniper Networks and even took over nearby Moffet Field.This expanded pressure from Cupertino on the South border, and Mountain View to the West and North, is pushing Sunnyvale costs and demand upward, much like new mountain ranges are formed under pressure from moving tectonic plates. And this isn't to say that Sunnyvale doesn't already have significant employment hubs of their own. The city's largest employers include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Synopsys, Broadcom, Infinera, Nokia, and and many of those I've already mentioned, like NetApp, Juniper and Yahoo!. But the new occupants in the city come armed with significant war chests and momentum, almost certainly strong enough to ward off any turndown in the hot [...]



Preaching to Our Choirs and Setting Up Blinders for All Else

Thu, 14 May 2015 10:15:00 PDT

Just about four years ago, Eli Pariser raised some very real flags about the "filter bubble", concerned that many of us on the Web were limiting our viewpoints by following those people and companies with whom we were most aligned. Our personal positions on politics, sports, and yes, even technology, have us in a constant state of affirmation seeking, and the desire to be part of a group of like-minded people, to reinforce our position and strengthen our decided upon beliefs, that we just might be right. And should somebody in our streams disagree with us, or launch into an off topic rant, we can easily unfollow them, and "clean up" the channel.At the time, thanks to tools like my6sense, where I was an advisor, and later VP of marketing, I said the filter bubble was "not bad" as options were always there to see new voices. While my6sense may not have been a massive consumer success, it was amazingly smart tool that solved the problem for me. But in the ensuing time, it's become even more clear that people, through constant following and unfollowing on our many social networks, are growingly subscribed to homogenous streams, and the content creators, be they bloggers, Tweeters, photographers or anything else, are limiting the subjects they discuss, to continue feeding the faithful.As someone who gained a following talking about tech, new tools and communities, I've staked my position on the Web as an early adopter, a cloud proponent, a measurement advocate, and engaged social media participant. I have a pretty good idea of what topics will resonate with my audiences on the various streams, and what won't. I know that my discussing items outside of my bubble are seen as noise to those who have chosen to follow me, and they vote with their engagement, or lack of it.More than nine years ago, shockingly, I saw this coming, when I talked about a Web divided, where people who espoused a certain view would flock toward an extreme community and not be interested in the opposite view. But it goes beyond picking a side in a discussion. What's happened is that people set up blinders to avoid discussion of anything else - including the content creators themselves.There's a lesser-used feature in TweetDeck, which enables you to view a Twitter stream through the eyes of another user, surfacing public tweets from accounts they follow. During the Baltimore riots, while a huge portion of Twitter's audience was living through the accounts through the news media, or sharing their experiences about race and police, the Silicon Valley tech bubble largely stayed silent, as if there were two different worlds that didn't connect. I could log in to TweetDeck and pick any prominent voice in tech and see that, in their streams, there was no talk of Baltimore. Or race. Or Ferguson. While people marched in the streets, and dodged rocks or tear gas, the digerati continued to talk about who was raising money, the quality of pitch decks, or complaints about housing prices in San Francisco.My tweets about Baltimore arresting police offers or links to why the situation exploded in the first place went unnoticed - while the streams continued to debate the future of wearables or the latest entrant into Unicorn status as a billion dollar startup. It was more than an echo chamber. It was a wind tunnel. And my daily journey into Feedly seemed to be no different than any other time. The same articles were written by the same people, about the same things. The same headlines begging you to click were thrown out there, only to be reshared and retweeted in a rush for page views.Oh. I see you're tweeting about something that's not tech.Maybe we've grown fatigued of outrage. Maybe there have been enough dramas and disasters and disappointments that we just don't react publicly. But I think there's more to it. We have been taught, thanks to our co[...]



FriendFeed's Closure Another Painful Loss from a Vibrant Era of Social Media

Mon, 09 Mar 2015 15:00:00 PDT

Amidst all the Apple watch hoopla today, FriendFeed's blog announced the long-ignored social networking pioneer was finally going to be taken out back behind Facebook's brilliant new campus and be put down for good. With the network's acquisition five years behind us in the rear view mirror, and user statistics consistently down, mothballing the once unique and vibrant community seemed only a matter of time, and the time has come.The closure will be by no means without pain. For the many people who made the site their center for capturing their updates around the Web, from the simplest status and debates to photos, there have been no hints at data migration or export. The hilarious threads with friends around the world are going to disappear. The instantaneous celebrations we had when my children were born, and the despair we felt when friends passed away and were mourned will be deleted.One FriendFeed conversation I won't get back.While the Web may have moved on, those of us most loyal to the service remember its pioneering excellence, with near-instant aggregation and publishing, near-perfect uptime, still completely unmatched advanced search capabilities, the introduction of the now universal Like button, topical "Rooms" much like the Groups or Communities of today's networks, and ability to act as a hub for your lifestream, sending the right updates to the right places immediately.Facebook's 2009 announcement of acquiring FriendFeed clearly spelled good news for the small and elite team working at the company, but pretty much spelled bad news for those who preferred it to what have clearly been the eventual winners in Facebook and Twitter. Some elements of FriendFeed made their way into Facebook, but there really hasn't been anything like it since. (Google Buzz came close, but that's a different story)A Discussion Last Month on FriendFeed Still Got Tons of DiscussionThe Social Web's picture in 2008 and 2009 was dramatically different than it is today. Twitter was as known for its uptime issues as for its core functionality. Facebook was obviously on a fast ramp to going public, Google Reader was the starting point for reading the Web's updates via RSS, and we were all looking for smart aggregation sites to discuss the Web's happenings with friends.Flash forward, and Google Reader (RIP) and FriendFeed are in the bin, aggregation is no longer a thing, and the hottest discussions are around good looking filter apps or private networks with disappearing content. It makes one feel a little gutted to have invested in networks that felt a little bit smarter and were designed for smart consumption and discussion, rather than a flight toward the lowest common denominator.Any ranting on my part to rescue my photos and posts and content from FriendFeed is a guaranteed moot point, and will fall on deaf ears, no doubt. While Google led the way with the Data Liberation project, and even Facebook and Twitter have archives you can download and take with you, FriendFeed has never made that step, and I'd be stunned if they would surprise us now. And while we're saying goodbye to conversations that used to spawn hundreds of comments and likes in the matter of minutes, it's almost as if we should feel lucky we squeezed out a few more years of engagement after the acquisition, when so many other products disappear immediately after getting bought.Sigh.If you were part of the active community that made FriendFeed special in those wide-eyed years, you experienced something I've never seen with any community since (with occasional flashes on Google+ and Twitter being exceptions). If you missed it, then you missed out on seeing one of the most talented teams ever assembled working on something that was both fun and smart. And that story's final chapter is coming without us ever getting the happy endi[...]



YouTube Kids: Smart, Mobile First, and Child Sized.

Mon, 23 Feb 2015 15:45:00 PST

In December, I wrote about viewing technology through the eyes of a child. As much as I think of myself as an early adopter and 'with it' net citizen, I'm equally amused and amazed at the activities my own kids rapidly learn and partake in when it comes to technology and the Web, how things and concepts once considered the future are commonplace. And their eyes, unvarnished by the way things have always been, highlight shortcomings in our software and websites that historically have been designed for fully literate adults on the desktop.I've been particularly excited to watch (and trial) YouTube Kids as it has been developed, and have been eager to see it launch today, the collective effort of sharp colleagues like +Shimrit Ben-Yair, +Pavni Diwanji, +Jonathan Terleski and many more. As they wrote in today's blog post, the new YouTube Kids is "the first Google product built from the ground up with little ones in mind." As a dad of three kids six and under, two of whom who read fairly well and a third just trying to keep up, it's exciting to see them become the focal point for an entirely new interface.The YouTube Kids Music channel.My children, from a young age, have been surrounded by touch-enabled tablets. They expect my laptop (and in the case of my Chromebook Pixel, accurately) to be touch-enabled. They use voice search constantly to find what they're looking for, and they essentially expect the world's content to be immediately available. But they tire quickly when apps and sites don't do what they want. That can result in complaints to me, or even a thrown tablet or two from a tantrum.Without sounding too much like PR-speak, from my own experience, I've seen the YouTube Kids app to reduce any surprises from me in terms of what my kids are watching, they more easily navigate the app, find channels and shows they want, and generally are pleased to have something made just for them.Browsing shows on YouTube KidsIf you haven't yet tried it out (download on Google Play or iTunes), the app features curated channels, a music area, a learning section, exploration, and the always handy search button. So the colors are bright, the buttons are bigger, and there's no noise in the way.Browsing the PBS KIDS channel on YouTube KidsThe true measure of whether an app for kids is working is whether the kids ask for it by name, or keep using it instead of getting bored and trying something else. My four year old boy is quick to use the app on my Nexus 9 or Nexus 6, and the twin six year olds are quickly getting used to the new app after lots of their own experience on the standard YouTube app we've all used.Searching for Minecraft on YouTube KidsLucky for us parents who do our best to stay on top of their digital explorations without trying to be overbearing, YouTube Kids makes searching less of a risk. My kids won't go from a G rated topic to an R rated one in a few clicks. Searching for Minecraft (which happens in my house) turns up solid results. And I can even set up the app to run for a certain amount of time before closing, to be used for incentives, or a late evening treat before bed.Setting YouTube for Kids' timer for 30 minutesAt the risk of my once more vibrant blog to be turned into a daddy blog, the quick summary is that this app is a welcome addition to our tablets and phones. Netflix's Kids only channel is smart. YouTube Kids is smart. The next generation is growing up with smart devices everywhere. What they do with them is largely prodded by what we make possible. Thanks YouTube!Disclosures: I work for Google, and YouTube is a Google subsidiary.More: louisgray.com | RSS | E-mail | Cell: 408 646.2759 [...]



Adult Problems Stink. I Blame Drew's Cancer. #BlameDrewsCancer

Mon, 12 Jan 2015 11:30:00 PST

I quickly glossed over it during my first post of the year, when I said "Adult problems can be a real pain," but I'd be skirting around some big issues if I didn't go deeper on some very real drama that in years past would see me aggressively pounding the drum to draw attention to their pain, hoping to rally others to their cause. But as I get older, and, as a result, my friends do too, struggles with health, family, work or finance are hardly isolated - making it somewhat selfish to choose one cause against another. And that sucks.Nearly five years ago, +Drew Olanoff, one of the best friends my family has ever had, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He, along with +Mike Demers and others, launched the #BlameDrewsCancer phenomenon, blaming all the world's ills on his cancer. A year after, we were delighted to learn Drew had been declared cancer free. We'd always expected a full recovery, and it was a relief to hear the doctors say so.My best buddy Drew with my kids in late 2008 and 2009.But, as most of you who follow my social streams know, Drew's cancer is back. And while I'm hopefully optimistic again (as is he), I'd be lying if I didn't say we're both worried. Cancer is no joke. This time around, Drew is older, and a bit more fatigued. He needs to use his energy to fight the cancer (again) and doesn't need the weight on his back of every cancer story that doesn't have a happy ending.Before Christmas, I took my two boys up to San Francisco to see Drew in the hospital, where he was getting ready for a round of chemotherapy. The trip was done quietly, as Drew, at the time, hadn't told the world his cancer was back. But my kids gave Drew their handmade cards, exchanged hugs, and we did what we could to let Drew know how important he is to our family, and that we're on the same team.Matthew and Braden in SF after seeing Drew in December.But Drew's not the only one with a challenge and raising the rally flag for him does something of a disservice to other friends who are fighting their own demons, cancer included. +Adam Singer and I visited +Justin Levy at Citrix before the end of the year, seeing how he's progressing after being diagnosed with a brain tumor and two broken shoulders, fractured in a dramatic seizure. Search marketing and analytics blogger +AJ Kohn is also undergoing chemotherapy treatment, and +Sid Burgess has had his own round with cancer. Summary: Cancer sucks and it isn't just picking on one guy and I hate it.And cancer's not the only demon working to make friends' lives unhappy. My colleague +Julia Ferraioli has been sacked with an array of issues over the last year plus that have turned her life upside down. My colleague Ken Norton lost his son to childhood heart disease, and in June, when I read Eric Meyer's story about losing his daughter, I was nearly in tears, dumbly staring at my Nexus 7 and going through her Flickr archive to better know the life that was cut short too soon.Comparatively, my life is pretty darn good. Family is healthy. So far, the bills are getting paid (even though it's not easy), and most of our struggles are simply getting the kids to be obedient, or dealing with car and tech issues. But I'm thinking about it. Don't get me wrong. I am worried about Drew this time, and he is scared too. He should be.But every time I see a friend, be it Drew or Sid or Julia or Justin, ask the world for help, I see the world answer strongly with a Yes. And that's what's so impressive about our hyperconnected planet now. I feel I really know these friends who I don't see every day. I can feel their pains and champion their successes, root for their wins and console them on losses. When Drew put the weight of the world on his back [...]



10 New Year's Resolutions (for you) for the Year 2015

Thu, 01 Jan 2015 19:30:00 PST

A new year is a somewhat arbitrary point in time to mark change. But tradition has it that we do two things when the calendar turns from December to January. We look back on the previous year, either with pride over accomplishments, or dismissal of bad experiences, and we optimistically expect the best for the coming twelve months.In years past I've put forth fun predictions for the world in tech. And trust me, I have some predictions, but I'll hold those close to the vest. Working at Google makes predicting the future like cheating. And I won't bore you with a list of my own resolutions for 2015. Instead, I'll suggest (with bias) ten resolutions each of you (and often us too) should take this year to make our online and offline lives even better.1. Protect yourself and your data from the bad guys.Seemingly every week, we are seeing news about security breaches at major retail stores, or finding online databases have been impacted. And outside the headlines, bad actors are out there trying to harvest your online information. I recommend protecting yourself by using two-factor authentication wherever possible, trying to avoid the reuse of passwords, and setting up automatic alerts that tell you if your credit cards are being used anywhere, or over a certain dollar amount.In 2014, I managed nearly 6 million steps on Fitbit.2. Use intelligent data to make yourself a better person.Seemingly everyone's New Year's resolution is to go to the gym more or lose weight. But those resolutions tend to fade out after a strong month or so. Instead, find a fitness tracker or application that makes sense to track what you already do, and find a way to increase those numbers. My adoption of Fitbit two and a half years ago helped me lose more than 20 pounds, encouraged me to buy a treadmill, and find the way to walk just about everywhere.3. Use intelligent data to make your home a smarter one.Once you know to count your data with services like Fitbit, running your home without data is kind of dumb. By adopting Nest and Sunrun to handle our energy costs, and Rachio to manage our smart sprinkler system, we've not only set ourselves up to save money each month, but we can better predict our use, and make changes when necessary.Our Solar powered home saves money and saves the air too.4. If you have money, put it in places with long term benefits.In 2010, we bought our home, putting out more money than I've ever done. But with rising Silicon Valley real estate prices, that looks like a good investment. In 2011, we refinanced. In 2012, we paid off our cars and, with the exception of our home, were debt free. In 2013, we bought a treadmill, to keep us active, even if not leaving the house. And in 2014, we made two big expenditures: The first being our Sunrun solar system, which will save us more than $65,000 in the lifetime of the 20 year contract, and the second, paying off a home equity line of credit, which was taking $300 a month, every month. We paid it off 28 years early. This year, we're hoping to get rid of our external storage unit, and continuing to take costs off the top.A Happy Update from the end of April on Twitter5. Reduce clutter, be it of physical things or your time.One of our 'first world problems' is the accumulation of stuff that takes up space. But many of things that occupy space where we live are for temporary enjoyment. I made a choice to ditch physical items for digital ones years ago, and I don't have books or DVDs following me around. Similarly, it makes sense to cut out activities, networks, people or habits that are a time suck for you and may have stopped adding value long ago. Whether it's closing accounts, unfriending, unsubscribing, or just walking away... if you truly miss it, you can alway[...]



A Successful 100k Steps Leads to a Sore, Yet Happy, Christmas

Thu, 25 Dec 2014 21:30:00 PST

Monday's personal record setting Fitbit dashboardLast week, I introduced a crazy and audacious goal, of knocking out 100,000 steps (as measured by Fitbit), in the name of personal achievement and to raise money for Camp Taylor, a summer camp for children with heart disease, in honor of colleague Ken Norton's son, Riley. And I'm beyond happy to say our adventure was a success.As chronicled on all the social channels (Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for starters), +Stephen Mack and I passed the 100,000 mark shortly before 10 pm Monday night, after 16 hours of pavement pounding fun that covered more than 46 miles - seeing us start before dawn, and keep pressing forward until daylight was a distant memory. And better yet, our efforts were not in vain as many of you were eager to support us through nearly $5,000 in donations to Camp Taylor, beating our target of $4,500.Our fundraising goal for Camp Taylor: Achieved!As I set out in our planning, Stephen and I got nearly all our walking in through three trips along the Stevens Creek Trail, which connects Sunnyvale to the San Francisco Bay through Mountain View, just past the Google campus. We grabbed backpacks with essential snacks and fluids, multiple phone chargers for guaranteed power, and thought ahead - bringing bandaids and Advil for inevitable pain, and head-mounted lamps to break through darkness.Some scenes from early morning Monday, before the pain.Our initial pace was quick, as I'm accustomed, and Stephen did a solid job adjusting, as we maintained strides through most of the day, even beyond the 10, 20 and 30 mile marks. And we were lucky enough to be joined for much of the journey by friends, each of whom did a lap with us, meaning we were marching in a group of three for about 80 percent of our trek, sharing new pains, stories and sights with one another.Having walked greater than 50,000 steps a few times myself, I knew I could hit the 100k as a stretch goal, so long as life didn't get in the way, but as our mark neared, I absolutely felt the fatigues and aches that threatened to make finishing difficult. We were each battling aches in practically every part below our waist, and our feet were a mess of blisters and soreness that wouldn't be solved until we were done.By the 92,000 mark, just an hour and a half away from the proverbial finish line, I was nearly overcome with dizziness and a slight spell where I was a bit concerned I'd pass out and fall short. Whether I was dehydrated or had just hit a wall, I'm not sure, but with water and about 10 minutes rest, we were able to continue marching, and eventually things settled back to where they were at a good rhythm through the end.Hitting 100,000 Fitbit steps just before 10 p.m. Monday night.As my math had planned, we made it back to my house the final time with 99,000 steps complete. We dropped off our heavy bags, and took one last victory lap around the block, reaching 100,000 steps at 9:52 p.m., after a momentary scare that Fitbit couldn't handle six digits and our walk would have been mocked at the very end. My tracker had stuck at 99,999 steps and then jolted forward to 100,007, so no pictures of perfection exist, but we had done it. We wearily high fived one another and then trudged home to call the event a success.As I told Ken, I promised I would do the full 100,000 steps, and we had done it. Our promise to Camp Taylor, and those supporting us with their donations, or words of encouragement in the streams, was that we would make our full effort, despite fatigue or soreness. And of course, our momentary strains that are nearly gone a few days later are nothing like the prospect of heart disease the youth we were walking for live with each day. So [...]



Taking the 100k Steps Fitbit Challenge and Raising Money for Charity

Thu, 18 Dec 2014 12:45:00 PST

On Monday, I have a crazy plan to set a new personal record for Fitbit steps. The goal? 100,000 steps in a single day, blowing away my previous personal best by more than 50 percent, and coming close to fifty miles walked - while also helping raise money for Camp Taylor, a free summer camp for children with heart disease, in memory of Riley Norton, the son of my friend and colleague Ken Norton.Ever since getting my Fitbit and being hooked on challenging myself to walk further and compete with friends, I've seen the allure of reaching new marks. I had my first 50,000+ step day in December of 2012, and managed more than 60,000 this September, even when I stopped pounding the pavement around 10:30 that night. I've walked 40,000 steps pushing three kids in a stroller, managed more than 200 flights of stairs in an evening in my house, and know that each personal record simply put the bar higher to make the next mark even more difficult.But as I've seen my numbers increase, the math has a strong magnetic pull toward one-tenth of a million steps in a single day. If one averages 100 steps a minute at a good walking pace, it's fairly easy to hit 6,000 steps in an hour. Given there are 24 hours in a day, managing 16 hours of walking (plus a bit) to reach 100k is absolutely doable, assuming I can push myself to keep going.So I've been eyeing this 100k mark with some anticipation - looking for a day where I'm out of the office, where my kids are taken care of, and I can just go, walking in a straight line until the day is finished.This week, as I told my friend (and TiVo employee +Stephen Mack) of my plan, he said he wanted to join in the adventure as well. Stephen, who I profiled on the blog more than five years ago, has been among my most consistent Fitbit competitors for the last two years, and has yet to see a fun contest that he'll turn down - especially if it can keep you in good shape. So we've made plans to set off early in the morning Monday and achieve this goal together.My comparatively bumpy activity from September's 60k day.To be clear, walking at a normal pace for most of a day is by no means the toughest endurance challenge one's ever seen. It's harder to run a marathon or a 50 mile or 100 mile endurance challenge. There's no swimming or biking. No weight lifting, beyond our feet. But it requires the will to keep going even if the effort seems monotonous or never-ending. And having a second person there will make the challenge more fun.The ideal course  will allow for us to keep walking all day without crazy hills or interruptions, even as small as traffic lights. We should be close enough to food so we can refuel beyond what we can carry, and have proper rest stops where they make sense. So I've sketched out a plan for us to navigate the Stevens Creek Trail between Sunnyvale and Mountain View, all the way to the San Francisco Baylands beyond Google's Mountain View campus. With three laps of this trail, we should be more than on our way to the 100,000 mark, and if not, we'll find a way to get there.Help Us Raise Money for Camp Taylor!So you might ask... why do this? Are your egos so big that you have to take the whole day for a silly hobby of virtual badges? Are you raising money for charity or something? Well, the first answer is "because we can." The math says it's possible, and data exists so we can measure it. And the second answer is also yes. While I'm doing this no matter what, it's also great to have the wind at our backs by doing this for a good cause. So I've started a page to support Camp Taylor, and extension, Riley, who passed away in October far too young after a lifelong battle.Our walk toward inevitable soreness and [...]



Tablets, Touch and Talk: Technology Through the Eyes of a Child

Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:45:00 PST

Braden With my Nexus 5, Watching the MLB At Bat app.My children have never known a world without high speed Internet, streaming movies on demand, and a seemingly all-knowing personal assistant, available to answer their every question when asked. They've grown accustomed to concepts which once seemed fanciful, like the ability to order all sorts of items on your tablet and have them delivered in the same day, having every photo you've ever taken available to you from any device, or having video chats with just about anyone instantly. For them, there is no such thing as technology. There's just the real world, which is directly impacted by pervasive Internet.As the major enabler of this, and someone who largely has converted from analog to digital at every opportunity, I've been especially excited to see how this impacts the way they interact with each other, what they choose to learn, and how quickly they grasp ideas - even when, to them, there is no user manual. I'm naturally curious to see what they choose to do and choose not to do, and what simply proves too hard.My twins are now six years old, and Braden (pictured) is four. The twins are in first grade, and Braden is in preschool. The older two can read well, and do some writing, but while Braden recognizes letters, it's not as if he's sitting down with a good book yet. Despite the mild illiteracy, all three can breeze through tablet usage - from memorizing a pin or lockscreen, to finding applications, launching apps, moving them to folders, and even downloading new ones from the Google Play store. And it's not far-fetched to say Braden is actively learning to read from applications you'd never expect, like Major League Baseball's At Bat, where he's working hard to memorize stats and names of players I've never even heard of. (See also: Wired: How Videogames Like Minecraft Actually Help Kids Learn to Read)Braden Seeing Baseball Highlights from the Majors on my Nexus 7Given my kids' capabilities, it should come as no surprise that their primary interaction with the Web is through touch on tablet or phones. They were exposed to iPads and Android tablets early on, and have grown familiar with the practice of touching an icon to launch and app and how to navigate the apps - including the always important ability to hit the small X in a corner to close ads. And when the app isn't what they are looking for, they just ask Google. Depending on how well they ask, Google should find them what they want, whether they are looking for "videos of cupcakes", "pictures of beagles" or whatever strikes their fancy that day.It'd be easy to say kids, like us, use technology to be entertained. They each have favorite games, and frequently open Netflix or YouTube to watch videos - or, as Braden does, the MLB At Bat app, to see highlights from all of the previous days' games. But they also use applications to draw, or for education, whether they are matching games, flashcards, or adventures that teach them language or math. And on more than one occasion, I've found my Google Express shopping cart full, with hundreds of dollars of items, from everything to do with Disney's Frozen or Minecraft, to books, toys and food. Luckily, they haven't yet figured out the last steps of the purchase, so I've always been able to clear the cart before having to explain away crazy charges.Sarah posts to YouTube, complete with titles and emoji.They've each also figured out the tablets and phones are capable of creative work as well. I was recently surprised with an email notifying me that I'd successfully uploaded three new videos to YouTube. After momentarily thinking I'd been hacked, I realized my daugh[...]



Ingress: The Incredible & Addictive Covert Game Being Played All Around You

Tue, 09 Dec 2014 16:15:00 PST

A little over two years ago, a small team within Google called Niantic Labs introduced Ingress, a game that adds a virtual reality layer on top of the entire world, which you can claim, defend or destroy for your cause - depending on which side you've chosen. And while I tested early versions of the game while it was developing at Google, and dabbled with it just after launch, I put it aside before jumping back in with both feet two months ago, when a pair of colleagues on my new team couldn't stop talking about it. And now I won't stop talking about it either.Simply put, in my view, it's the most well-designed, intelligently deployed concept I've ever seen for an immersive experience on mobile, which encourages you to get off your butt, explore the world around you, and find new people to help you achieve goals together. Every facet of the application, even while it seems mysterious, is designed to help you get out of house, to explore new crannies of your neighborhood (and beyond) and discover people on your faction who need your help to achieve what would be impossible alone. I've never seen anything like it.Some shots of Ingress badges and live portals.As you know, I've been an avid wearables and personal fitness tracking nut for the better part of more than two years. Fitbit has been counting my steps and Moves has been showing where I go. But while Fitbit only counts my activity, it doesn't provide direction or give me a specific mission. Ingress does - making my steps matter, as they are pulled toward each new destination, and seemingly every turn provides yet another opportunity to take down an opponent, power up or build on my own space, or hack away and get new equipment to make me stronger. This combination has accelerated my near-constant walking and movement into personal record highs, consistent leaderboard domination, and I've fallen way behind in any regular TV watching.There are many other sites dedicated to the gameplay of Ingress, so I won't go too deep, but at its heart, Ingress is a battle for the hearts and minds of humanity. In the storyline, the Earth has been seeded with exotic matter (XM), and you either believe this XM will enlighten us all, or you will resist it. So from the very begining, you choose a side: The Resistance (blue) or The Enlightened (green).The Two Factions of Ingress: Enlightened and ResistanceOnce you pick a side, you then have three primary functions, much like other multi-player games. You can build sites for your faction, you can destroy the opposition, or you can continually farm for new equipment to make you stronger. This is done by visiting sites, known as portals, which consist largely of landmarks across the world, from water fountains to murals, sculptures, churches and standing structures. If it is something that can shape your mind and appears exotic, there's a good chance it's a portal.Ingress is played globally as teams battle for position.As one friend of mine tastefully said, you can't play Ingress "from the comfort of your own toilet." You have to move. And in especially dense places with plenty of landmarks, the next portal can be just another block or less away. So if you find yourself out to build, farm, destroy or explore, the only limit to how much you participate is your own time, and how long your phone can hold a charge. That's led to something of a cottage industry for Ingress players lugging around external phone battery charges so playing doesn't stop short at the worst time.Now that Ingress has you out of your house, and walking with specific destinations, with the next stop just a little bit further away, you're being[...]



You Can't Achieve Equality by Expecting Everyone to be the Same

Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:15:00 PST

There's not much a fairly privileged white guy who hails from the suburbs can say about diversity or racism without being questioned. Compared to many other people who don't hail from WASP backgrounds, most of my challenges are pretty easy. I don't come into life fighting against a biased expectation of who I am or what I'm capable of. I don't immediately find that people assume I'm not smart enough, or honest enough, or trusted enough to participate in their workplace and their communities. Things are remarkably comfortable.Speaking up or talking about hard issues like racial bias or diversity, or calling for attentiton to inherent problems, makes it possible I'll misspeak and say something quotable where I don't want it. It's instead much easier to sit quiet and let other people fight their battles - to watch big conflicts and flareups remotely, trivializing someone else's experience, as something that's not happening here. But even in the 'burbs, and in our corporate offices, there are issues. We may not see unarmed men shot 12 times and killed in our hallways, but there are opportunities to bring down or build up our peers daily, and most of us aren't doing much to aid their quiet struggles.Earlier this month, one of my best friends, +Erica Joy, who works with me here at +Google, talked about how bias has worked against her, as a black woman, in a predominantly white and east Asian world. Her piece "The Other Side of Diversity" removes the abstract anonymity of company statistics and tells you the direct reality of what it's like as someone who walks into a position where people may have already made their mind up about you, where your mere presence may make them uncomfortable, and where artificial limits are put on your potential.Lunch With +Erica Joy in 2013 #throughglass(And she'll hate that I shared this photo...)I've known Erica for about seven years, and have been colleagues with her for the last three plus. She's the kind of person who I've always felt free to open up to and tell her just about anything. She's clever, insightful and hilarious - if you take the opportunity to know her. She's also especially thoughtful. She can be a sharp critic when our products don't work well, and she can push back on me if I say something daft that needs revision or clarification. And yet I know not everyone is open to finding out her personality, and as she spells out in her piece, as well as the follow-on "No Solution", her professional career (and personal no doubt) has been impacted, multiple times, by the shortsightedness of others.While I may comfortably sit on the side where I don't have to fight for inclusion, it's incredibly frustrating to see this happen time and again, whether people are strong enough, like Erica, to speak up about it, or they remain in silence. For no matter how you carve up the numbers being shared from our workplaces, we have some obvious gaps in our nurturing, recruiting, hiring and retention practices - which extend a gulf in our representation of women and minorities in tech. This is a systemic issue at all levels, and while I know companies (including mine) honestly are working hard to improve things, the day to day realities can't be glossed over with an expectation of prettier futures.Sometimes when Erica and I get together, we joke about seeing if we can hit a quota of spotting more people like her (namely black women) on campus - like the proverbial unicorn. If we can find two more (not including her) over a standard lunch visit, we've done pretty well. Sometimes, depending where we walk or where we're eating, [...]



Our Smartphones Have Surpassed Their Role as Computers In Our Pockets

Fri, 07 Nov 2014 15:00:00 PST

The prevailing mantra holds that as our phones become increasingly smart and constantly connected, that we're walking around with the equivalent of computers in our pocket.These intelligent devices can do practically everything their PC predecessors could, from email and web browsing to document sharing and creation, music and photos, and any application you can think of. In fact, I'd argue that we're not only seeing people spend more hours with their mobile devices than traditional PCs, they're more functional as well - as the smartphone has surpassed the PC. Ever try taking photos with your iMac? It's tough.Now, instead of considering these phones and tablets as miniature computers, which are used to access our desktop content on the go, we're seeing the reverse take place. The smartphones are initiating the activity, and the desktop connects us to the results. Instead of many small computers in our pocket, our PCs are essentially larger versions of our phones - and we come to our Web browsers and desktop apps to pick up where our phones left off.Rachio's Web site is as Functional as the AppNot too long ago, it was common to expect apps to be made for our smartphone platforms that were extensions of our Web experiences. These simple mobile apps were wrappers for our cloud-based data, or simply sucked down web pages and media, but didn't offer experiences that were enhanced by being mobile. It was just a mirror of what you could get on the desktop. However, as the app ecosystem exploded for iOS, Android and other platforms, coding for the smartphone became the primary destination and effort for new companies and ideas.Automatic's Web dashboard leverages data from the mobile device.You could see this evolution go in a a three step process, from "Mobile too" to "Mobile first" and in many cases now, "Mobile only." Mobile experiences can't just be a shadow of the desktop version, but instead are now carefully crafted to meet rigid design expectations, with a user experience that adapts for smaller screens, and gets better with understanding of the user's location data or other apps installed on the phone. We're spending more and more time inside of our mobile apps, which can be our primary messaging and sharing vehicle, our second screens while watching TV or using the desktop, or a constant companion - to the point we hold them in our hands as we walk everywhere, or put them out on the table in front of us wherever we may go, waiting for the next chirp to grab our attention.Fitbit takes its data and makes smart charts and graphs on their site.The natural evolution of this mobile first, mobile centric reality is that we're now no longer going to our phones to pick up where our desktops left off, but the reverse. And when I do end up in front of a full-sized keyboard and monitor, I'm clamoring for smart Web experiences in my browser that reflect activities that have happened on the phone. If it's a miss, I may end up closing my laptop and picking up my Nexus 5 instead.For applications that are primarily experienced on mobile, seeing a strong Web interface that contains the same data as on mobile is a pleasant surprise. You can see this difference in the way Fitbit has worked hard to have a great Web experience to mirror mobile, while the Moves app does not. Automatic and Rachio have a workable Web experience to match their mobile version.Managing the Nest thermostat via the Web - same as the app.Not too long ago, trying to use the Web and get data on our phones was exasperating. We had subpar experiences, had to make excuses for short email r[...]



Fitbit Launches Challenges to Push You and Friends to Go Further

Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:45:00 PDT

The charm of Fitbit has always been more than just counting steps and seeing how far you've meandered in your day. Even more than the virtual badges you can collect for hitting new personal records, one of the most engaging pieces of this smart wearable has been informally competing with your friends for a place atop the leaderboard, learning who is the most active, and seeing just how much further you need to go to land a spot at the top.With a new feature rolled out quietly last week, Fitbit has formalized these challenges, encouraging you to take on your friends directly. New on Fitbit: Challenges to Take On Small Groups of FriendsAvailable on the mobile app for both Android and iOS, Fitbit has started with three separate challenges for you to extract steps out of your fitness social circle - namely Weekend Warrior (for the Saturday/Sunday stomper), Daily Showdown (for 24 hours of high stepping action) and the Workweek Hustle (to get you out of the cubicle Monday through Friday).The challenges are pretty straight forward. The clock starts ticking at midnight in the time zone of the friend who proposed the challenge. Those who accept the challenge have their steps measured against other participants, and you can see microevents of who's adding on, whether people are practically tied, or if anyone has achieved their own daily personal goals. You can also challenge people head to head and see updates.Like any gamified app, the expectation is that a change in the virtual world will deliver a change in the real world. If my friend takes me on a one day challenge, am I more likely to sit on the couch, or go walk a few blocks to make sure I take the gold medal? And for those of us who've amassed large friend lists in Fitbit, due to non-dramatic promiscuity, the challenges act as a way to focus on specific people or a small group. In one head to head challenge, I had a friend with a planned 15k race at the end of the day, who effectively was sandbagging his activity in an attempt to finish first. Unfortunately for him, he finished just short, as my consistent walking was too strong. After all, my competitive streak doesn't have an off mode. Challenge me here. I plan to win.More: louisgray.com | RSS | E-mail | Cell: 408 646.2759 [...]



What If We Redid the 2000 .Com Monopoly Edition for Today's Web?

Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:15:00 PDT

In the year 2000, as the .com bubble was at its peak, it seemed new tech names were going to rapidly eclipse the old guard. Emails and downloads were new conversation topics, and if you weren’t still on AOL, debates would ensue over which ISP you should choose, or which search engine or portal was the best. Sun was the dot in .com and Linux seemed poised to take over the desktop. Obviously, not everything turned out that way, even if some of the names are still around, and even strong.The 2000 .Com Monopoly BoardOne of the fun collectibles that came out of this time was a .com edition of Parker Brothers’ Monopoly. Instead of properties around Atlantic City streets, you had websites. Community Chest and Chance were replaced with Email and Download cards. And you couldn’t buy property for a few hundred bucks, as everything was in the millions of dollars. Not too soon after the game came out (and of course, I still have it), the .com market was decimated, as the companies of the future weren’t built for the present. Now the game board itself looks like a relic of a short-lived era gone by.The 2000 List of Companies and CategoriesAs something of a lark, and thought exercise, let’s consider who would take these 2000 era companies’ spots on the board. I’ll go first with my take on today’s cast of characters.Dark Purple2000 .com Monopoly edition: Sportsline.com and FoxSports2014 .com Monopoly edition: Deadspin and ESPN.comCommentary: Back in 2000, ESPN, as part of Disney, didn’t have a great approach at owning its web presence. It was part of the Go.com family, one reason it missed the original .com board. Now, ESPN represents sports on all media. Deadspin is an exceptional alternative with sharp commentary that is a must read for serious sports fans. (Apologies to SB Nation)Light Blue2000 .com Monopoly edition: GeoCities, Oxygen and iVillage2014 .com Monopoly edition: Pinterest, SnapChat, and WhatsAppCommentary: The 2000 edition definitely had a bent toward community. With iVillage and Oxygen, two of the three properties were focused on women. GeoCities didn’t age well and was retired. Pinterest, SnapChat and WhatsApp have become some of the fastest growing communities for pretty much all ages and both genders.Light Purple2000 .com Monopoly edition: Shockwave.com, Games.com and E! Online2014 .com Monopoly edition: TMZ, Buzzfeed and RedditCommentary: Shockwave? Really. Let’s move on. For fun entertainment and burning hours of Web surfing, TMZ, Buzzfeed and Reddit can’t be beat. Reddit is a tough one to categorize, as it calls itself the Web’s front page, but it’s knocked off Digg, Slashdot and others for that title.Orange2000 .com Monopoly edition: Priceline, Expedia and eBay2014 .com Monopoly edition: Square, PayPal and YelpCommentary: eBay could easily be a repeat in 2000 and 2014. Priceline and Expedia are still doing fine. But Square and PayPal are how the Web does business these days, while Yelp is often the place to go for recommendations on what to buy or where to go.Red2000 .com Monopoly edition: The Weather Channel, About.com and CNET2014 .com Monopoly edition: Dropbox, Instagram and TumblrCommentary: About.com looks like a content farm, and while CNET’s still alive and kicking, there’s been nothing to talk about since its CBS acquisition. The Weather Channel? Please. There’s an app for that. And more than just finding content sites, anybody can create and share content globally with apps like Instagram, sites like Tumblr and share it on Dropbox. (A[...]



Cloud Powered Near Instant PC, Mobile Upgrades Are the New Reality

Mon, 13 Oct 2014 11:00:00 PDT

Buying a new computer or getting a new phone used to be a huge pain. Even if everything was up and running right away, you had to plan for hours, or even days, of moving all your data from the old device to the new one. And if you didn’t successfully complete the data migration, or had sufficient paranoia, you could end up with old devices cluttering your home - just in case you might need to get that old content. But with so much of our data moving from local disks to the cloud, and new operating systems improving their sync and account setup, the day of hot swapping devices is here. As you know, for the past few years, our home has been a ChromeOS and Android family. This started well before I joined Google, and as each OS gets smarter, that move looks to have been the right one - especially when it comes to this issue. Samsung's 2012 Chromebook Got Bumped for the 2014 HP.Last week, thanks to a sale on Woot.com, I purchased a new HP 14 inch Chromebook for my wife. One evening, as she was using the 2012-era 11 inch Samsung Chromebook, I told her to close her eyes. I took her old laptop and put the new one in her lap, and when she signed in, she didn’t miss a beat. All her bookmarks were there, even down to the tabs she had open in her browser. With one move, and for the same $200 or so I spent two years ago, she got a faster device, double the RAM, and a larger, more vibrant screen, with no headaches around data. There was no question of whether she had to back up photos, or copy her songs. No dragging and dropping off folders and documents. It just worked, exactly as I had expected it to. And the next morning, when she had to print to our networked printer, she just told the browser to print, and the printer was listening. No printer drivers, and not even a memory of a CD-Rom or DVD. It just worked. A discussion on Twitter with +Josh Elman and +Edwin KhodabakchianMeanwhile, on mobile, the story is much the same. Whether it’s due to an accidental drop (which has happened in our home more than once), or a required factory reset thanks to trying new software before it’s ready (that’s also happened), starting over with a new phone or starting the phone over from scratch is no big deal any more either. Signing into my account brings my account information, access to my data, my apps, and my preferences. In the storage industry, we used to talk about hot swappable units - which would enable upgrades without reboots or interruption of access to data. The dream of upgrading servers, disks, arrays or network equipment without downtime was rarely achieved, but often talked about. On the consumer side, many of us have grown accustomed to the inevitable pains that come with getting new devices or even upgrading those devices from one system version to the next, and it doesn’t have to be this way any more. Standard Disclosures: I work at Google, the company behind ChromeOS, Android, and great tools that help you sync your content between devices. You can assume I prefer cloud-based data.More: louisgray.com | RSS | E-mail | Cell: 408 646.2759 [...]



Automatic and Fitbit Data Show My Car Use Down 50% as Steps Are Up 33%

Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:40:00 PDT

It seems fairly logical that if you walk everywhere, you're probably driving less. But even as I've been on something of a Fitbit kick since early 2012, I've reached even higher highs in the last month-plus, and increased my daily goal to 15,000 steps (from 12,000), thanks to one simple change - opting to leave my car at home each workday and benefit from one of Google's most visible perks, taking the company shuttle.Looking at the data from Automatic, my dashboard shows I'm on pace to have set a new low for both miles driven and money spent on gas, this month, a full fifty percent below previous months. And even without the aggressive late evening walks I was orginally doing when losing my extra weight at the end of 2012, my step counts are up more than 30 percent from just a few months ago. You might think that's not worthy of a blog post, but the available data, and correlation from this simple life change is easy to document.A new low for driving costs in September (via Automatic)Prior to taking the shuttle, my routine was fairly simple. I'd walk the twins to school, drive to work, walk a bit to lunch and do usual scurrying from meeting to meeting, and get home well short of 10,000 steps. To hit my target of 12,000, I'd still have to head out at night and get the steps in. But now, after walking the twins to school, I head back home to get the laptop, and walk the mile plus to the nearest shuttle stop instead. I work on the shuttle until reaching campus, and by the time I'm at my desk, I've racked up 5,000 to 6,000 steps. I can easily hit 10,000 after walking to and from lunch, and by the time I head home, I'm close to 15,000 steps - good enough for reaching my higher goal. And if I want to head out, be it to walk our dogs or play with the kids or anything else, I'm just padding on, getting closer to 20,000 without too much effort.Hitting 20k on Fitbit isn't an ordeal with a new shuttle routine.Meanwhile, my poor car is sitting neglected. Instead of driving into work and doing battle with other Bay Area commuters, the shuttle driver is escorting me (and my colleagues) while I catch up on email, keep our social channels updated, and generally get my first 20-30 minutes of work in - while I'd probably just be listening to the radio and stuck in traffic on the old routine.When I first got the Automatic dongle back in April, I was intrigued by it catching me going too quickly or doing other bad behaviors while on the road that might cut into my gas mileage. But with few exceptions, the occasional chirp hasn't really impacted me. If I'm on 280, I'm going to drive over 70. It's what the road was made for. And if I'm driving to an A's game in Oakland, there's no question I'll have to hit the brakes occasionally, to avoid making traffic worse. But having the accumulative dashboard is even more valuable. I'm not at the point where I'd consider getting rid of the car, and sharing my wife's minivan, but there are some weeks where I might not even start the car. Google Shopping Express handles almost all our shopping, and we can walk almost everywhere else.Earlier this month, I hit 60k steps, a new record. Some day I'll get 100k.Meanwhile, in Fitbit land, thanks to being pretty consistent about promoting this socially connected pedometer for the last two-plus years, I'm continuing to enjoy the daily and weekly competitions, literally around the world. +Thomas Power in London is now tweeting his daily step counts, and harrass[...]



Blogs Still Trump Streams for Longform Content With a Long Shelf Life

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:30:00 PDT

Five or so years ago, the idea that one of the most visible bloggers would walk away from their website and completely move their presence to a third party network would have been a step short of scandalous. In fact, when top bloggers even took a month or two off before rejuvenating, that in itself was news. (See from 2007: Are Leading Bloggers Getting Blog Fatigue? and Robert Scoble's response) When the well-read and highly networked Jason Calacanis exited the blogging game in 2008, we all talked about it. When PR lead Steve Rubel deleted his blog in 2011, I was not happy.For many, the allure of instant feedback on social networks, and simple quantifiable levels of engagement are enough to call in quits on longer form content. When a much labored blog post can only score a handful of comments (if any), and a fun tweet gets dozens of retweets and favorites in minutes, or a Google+ or Facebook post has a deep conversation, the return on investment can have you wondering if blogging is even worth the effort.Last month +Robert Scoble finally abandoned his blog, which, like mine, used to be a lot more active and engaged than it is now. Yet few people noticed. His choice is to primarily engage on Facebook, and continue a presence on Twitter and Google+. And it's no longer controversial. In parallel, ten years into +Charlene Li's blogging, she writes, "You just can’t beat the engagement that social media platforms provide, something that blogs on their own can’t do."It's not as if this is a sudden change, obviously. Blogging was (after bulletin boards and newsgroups) the first deep channel one could have to report news, talk to peers and engage with brands on the Web. But when Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so many other social streams emerged, people learned to communicate in real time. By the time blog posts were published, and traveled via RSS to your attention, you might already have seen the news somewhere else. In effect, social media decimated blogging in the same way that the Internet decimated newspapers. Speed wins practically every time.Just a few years ago, it'd be easy to say "Your blog is your brand (2007)", or, later adjusting, that "Blogging is the foundation in a world of streams (2009)". I still believe deeply in the second part, that all those tweets and social streams have to point somewhere, and if it's not an ad, then it's back to your blog. The rest is just real time noise that is interesting one minute and gone the next. The blog is the place where you can exchange deeper discussions, and the posts live on forever.Blog posts I made years ago still get thousands of visits a month.So what of the perceived decline in readers to blogs that once saw incredible attention? Like in the TV world, where one now has hundreds of specialized channels catering to every interest, which has dramatically impacted traditional network market share, the Internet has many more content outlets to choose from, for practically anything you want. You name a topic, you can find a community for it. And entertainment and soft content are winning, just like they do on TV. People love to be entertained, so even the purported news networks like Business Insider, Mashable and Buzzfeed take a tabloid approach and cater to the lowest viewer - tantalizing and teasing their way through your day.My good friend and colleague on the +Google Analytics team, +Adam Singer, recently t[...]



Zillowionnaires Common As Bay Area Property Prices Boom

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:15:00 PDT

While much of the world isn't all that sympathetic to the concerns of a relatively well-off Bay Area population that is home to some of the most successful tech companies on the planet, there's a clear and increasing separation of the exceptionally comfortable (read: rich) group, and those being squeezed by a higher cost of living that is rapidly outpacing any kind of increase in income.As I wrote just over a year ago (See: DINKs vs SITKOMs and Other Family Finance Disasters), Bay Area housing costs are putting incredible pressure on families who haven't been lucky enough to partake in an IPO or acquisition (or two). Neighborhoods that seem average can be shockingly full of homes valued well over a million dollars, putting mortgages well out of reach, and rents continue to skyrocket. For those who already own a home, this can be a great source of comfort, but for those on the outside looking in, the circumstances aren't getting any better.My proposed new term: Zillowionnaries.This summer, a home with an identical floorplan to our own went on sale, and spent less than two weeks on the market before a bid was accepted. Curious, given the continued balloon in costs in our neighborhood, I awaited the final results. Eventually, Redfin and Zillow updated to show the home had gone for $626 a square foot, 52% higher than the $412 a square foot my wife and I paid when we bought our home just four years ago. The buyers, unsurprisingly, have two working parents - one employed at eBay, and the other at Google. They could afford it. But being a single income parent, it's pretty unlikely that I could afford to move into our own neighborhood today. I'd be priced out. Even a two bedroom, one bathroom home with 1,160 square feet can clear $1.1 million on the asking price, thanks to location, and a sizeable lot.Zillow Shows Sunnyvale With Million Dollar Homes a PlentyHaving worked in Silicon Valley since 1998, I've seen the rise and fall in the economy following the first dotcom boom, the 2001 recession following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, another recovery and the bank and housing collapse in 2008 and 2009, which saw many people, even in the Bay Area, underwater. But the rise and fall of property prices hasn't kept the trend steady. For example, the two bedroom, two bathroom apartment I shared with a roommate from 2000 to 2002 initially cost $1,350 a month. It rose to $1,950 during our stay there, and just a decade-plus later, is now $3,519 a month. That's a 161% rise from our $1,350 mark, and 80% over our top price, which was a direct reaction to demand from dotcom money chasers.Zillow Zillow Everywhere, and No Sub $1Ms to SeeFor those lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time, the rise in property assets outstripping cash assets can be a funny thing. Why aren't there opportunities out there to sell equity in your home, and take the cash to pay off your mortgage? The buyer would retain percentage ownership, and have the option to sell the share to another buyer, or wait for the entire unit to be sold to cash out. Assuming a continued rise in prices, the partner would make money on the final transaction, and the current owner would save money through eliminating interest payments to the bank. And there's always selling at a perceived high point and high tailing it to a lower cost state or community, in exchange for reduced access to the go-go Silicon Valley network and econ[...]