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As I've done now for several years, here are a few guesses as to what shall come to pass in the tech industry during 2012. One caveat: my predictions are generally based on observations of the US/North American market, and may not make much sense if considered from the perspective of somewhere else.

1. Patent disputes in the mobile industry will escalate, threatening to tear it apart, and leading to some a significant change in tone, if not actual multi-player agreements, to reduce the risk for all (major) parties. While they could continue this miserable dance of who's-pissing-on-who-in-what-country, I think more rational heads will start to realize that it's really not doing anyone any good...except the corporate lawyers, of course.

2. RIM, maker of the Blackberry and perennial loser of market share, will be approached for acquisition, if not acquired outright. A reasonable scenario, I think, has Apple scooping them up solely for their patent portfolio, if not also their back-end server technology, which would help Apple move further into the corporate back-office (a market they've done little to woo so far).

3. Continuing on the smartphone theme, I think Google's Android will surpass 50% US smartphone market share during 2012 and end the year at around 55%. Apple's iOS will pass 30% of the smartphone market and end 2012 with about 33%. That leaves ~12% for RIM and Microsoft to split, with my prediction putting them each at 5-7%.

4. Google will announce that it's abandoning Chrome OS and consolidating all its OS efforts with Android. Those 527 Chromebooks that were sold instantly become collector's items.

5. Apple will release a crapload of new products in 2012. The iPad 3 will have a Retina display  with 2048 x 1536 resolution (although, technically, that would be only 253 pixels per inch, far less than the iPhone 4's Retina display), a better front-facing camera, and 4G. Apple will also release, or at least announce, an iTV, which will include a camera on the front bezel and everyone will suddenly wonder why TVs haven't had cameras for the past 60 years.

6. I think the new laptop category called "ultrabooks" will expand significantly (from the 3 or 4 models currently available) and sell pretty well. IMO, there's a fairly compelling value proposition in a 12-14" laptop weighing 3 lbs or less with a fast processor, great battery life, and 120+ GB of solid-state storage for under a grand. Intel and the computer OEMs all have vested interest in getting consumers to spend more than the $400 they've become accustomed to, and a lot of people seem to be tired of buying 15.6" behemoths with miserable specs and battery life that's measured in minutes.

7. The number of tech IPOs will jump dramatically in 2012. There's been a big backlog, with only a few brave souls venturing forth recently (e.g., Zillow, Groupon, and Zynga). In 2012, I expect we'll see Facebook, Yelp go public, and maybe even Evernote and Twitter. The improving economy will make it hard to resist some instant wealth for these privately held firms.

8. Sprint will abandon its unlimited cellular data policy and go with a tiered pricing structure like every other major US carrier. The public's reaction will be swift and ugly, but ultimately ineffective at making Sprint regret the change. Moreover, Sprint will continue to turn on its nascent LTE network, making it increasingly hard to sell WiMax 4G phones to its customers. 2012 will not be a good year for the yellow swoosh.

9. Microsoft will release Windows 8 to a shocked and confused public, who will mill around the OS aimlessly looking for a Start button. Ballmer will try to convince everyone that it's better while simultaneously telling us how to make Windows 8 look like Windows 7. With Windows Phone not taking off, increasing competition for Office from web apps, the brightest spots for Microsoft will be Exchange, Xbox, and licensing revenue from Android device OEMs. Windows 8's launch will be far less successful than Windows 7's was, despite being available for a wider variety of hardware platforms.

10. In 2012, the major manufacturers of family cars will continue to struggle with the public's perception of electric cars. While additional cars will come out, none will sell terribly well. The only exception will be the Tesla Model S, which will start arriving in customers' driveways and help quite a bit in convincing America that an electric car isn't really as bizarre and scary as it thought. Tesla will be approached as an acquisition target by a large international automobile manufacturer. 

Check back in about 365 days to see whether or not any of these predictions came true, mostly true, or not even close. Until then, have a great 2012!
Since 5 years in a row makes a tradition in my book, it's now once again time to revisit my predictions for 2011, and see how they panned out...or not.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

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Mostly right: Yes on the FF camera (albeit an incredibly low-resolution one) and yes on the same resolution as the original iPad, but no 4G LTE. Heck, not even the iPhone 4S has LTE. C'mon, Apple...what's the problem? Afraid of battery life complaints?

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

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Again, mostly right. Nintendo launched a new console, the Wii U, and it does have HD output (although the multi-function controller, which includes a screen, is the main differentiator). But, like it's predecessor, it still won't play DVDs or Blu-Ray. Why, Nintendo, why??? The Wii U will be available early in 2012.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

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This was perhaps my most cynical prediction and I wasn't really that confident in it. But, amazingly, we saw not one, not two, but three smartphone platforms become abandonware in 2011. MeeGo was killed off when the Linux Foundation decided to move whole-hog towards Tizen, an HTML5-based OS. Nokia abandoned Symbian when it was clear there was no hope of it gaining traction in the smartphone space. We'll see if their cozying up to Microsoft and Windows Phone will prove to be a smart move. Finally, HP did, then didn't, then finally did open the cage and let webOS into the wilds of open sourcedom, likely to never see another smartphone installation again. So sad. Ironically, Bada is still going strong at Samsung, amazingly selling over 10 million Bada handsets in 2011. To whom, exactly, I'm not quite sure.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

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Perhaps I was a bit too US-centric in this prediction. According to NPD DisplaySearch, while 3D TV sales were so low that 3D actually lost ground in the US, it has grown in popularity in Europe and China. Given Sony's recent entry into 3D gaming TVs and systems for the home, it seems pretty clear that, at least in North America, gaming and theater experiences are the only things keeping 3D in people's minds. Whether or not the rest of the world knows something we don't, or soon follows suit, is yet to be determined.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

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Ha ha ha...not even close. All the estimates I've seen have iPads outselling all Android tablets by multiples in 2011. It's not clear to me why that is, especially now that Android phones are outselling iPhones by almost a 2:1 margin. That said, given the new Kindle Fire, Nook Color, and some other rather serious tablets running Android (e.g., the Asus Transformer Prime), and rumors that Google itself might release a Nexus tablet in 2012, this coming year might see that gap close somewhat.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

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Yes, but it wasn't Sigma (I still have no idea how they generate revenue). Pentax was purchased by Ricoh, who wants to get into the digital camera biz in a big way. Sony, Canon, and Nikon continue to dominate the DSLR market, with Olympus (who might not be around in a year), Panasonic, and others trying to carve out share in the Micro-Four-Thirds market.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.

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Yep. Apple still has the largest, with Android catching up quickly, and Windows Phone a very distant third. Although, if Nokia can execute on hardware and marketing as it has in the past, and Microsoft can continue to spend those Android licensing revenues on writing solid updates for Windows Phone, Redmond might just crack the top 3 smartphone platforms sooner than you think. RIM certainly isn't doing anything to stop them.

8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

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I'm not sure I could've nailed this more accurately. By any definition, Google TV was a huge disappointment for Google (not to mention Logitech) in 2011. Licensing problems kept certain content from being available, and platform software issues kept the user experience from wowing anybody. Better luck with the reboot, Goog.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

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If you look at these numbers, Facebook is indeed at #2, well behind Google and just in front of Yahoo! and MSN. However, if you add Google and YouTube together, as well as Microsoft.com and its MSN/Live properties together, Microsoft is still #2. But, the single-site statistics suggest that Facebook is a quickly growing superpower regardless.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.

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Nope. Honestly, I had hoped that Google would buy Twitter, make it a stable platform, and integrate it into its other properties and services. Instead, Google did something I didn't think they were capable of:  making a robust, vibrant, and successful social media platform from scratch. Google+ grew faster than anyone imagined and is well on its way to being the quickest to 100 million members of any online service anywhere. I can just hear Larry and Sergey asking, "Who needs Twitter?"

So, 8-ish out of 10 were mostly correct...my least incompetent job so far. Anyway, I'll be posting my predictions for 2012 tomorrow, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:
2004:Predictions, No Results
2006:Predictions, Results
2007:Predictions, Results
2008:Predictions, Results
2009:Predictions, Results
2010:Predictions, Results

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So you think Google+ is dying, eh? Your stream seems to be drying up or decaying into a mundane trickle of banality. Well, I'm sorry to say this, but it's probably not Google+, it's you. You may be doing it wrong.

I'm no "SEO expert" or social media guru, but if you want Google+ to be a dynamic, inspiring, fascinating river of content and ideas for you, I suggest doing four things:

1)      Understand yourself. Without a good understanding and appreciation of what you're passionate about, you'll meander among seemingly random posts, never finding that group of people who will light up G+ like a Christmas tree for you. If you can identify those topics that you most enjoy discussing, it will help you to find others who share that passion much more quickly and effectively. And those people are the point of social media platforms like Google+.

2)      Engage. Now, you need to engage those people in a meaningful way. If you can start to do that, the conversations you'll begin having will make it easier to find even more people who can provide content of value to you. Engagement is more than punching the +1 button on the occasional pretty photo or commenting "Nice!" on a useful infographic. Engagement is also more than just making a lot of posts. Meaningful engagement means making substantive comments and interacting with others to enhance the intellectual value of a post -- or even over a series of posts --  whether it's yours or someone else's. In a nutshell, engagement requires conversation...there's no avoiding that.

3)      Post publicly. This is a potentially confusing recommendation for some people, as they've come to believe that circles on G+ are meant to restrict the audience for your outgoing content. In some (rare) cases, that's true, such as when you want to keep a post private and give access to a small number of other people (e.g., close friends, family members, or a spouse). Personally, I use circles to limit the audience when I post photos of my kids, as I'd rather those not go floating about the Internet. But for more general content, restricting the audience hurts your ability to engage. For example, if you're posting a link to an interesting article about a new camera that's coming out, limiting that to being visible only to your Photography circle is a mistake. One reason is that you just can't be sure who is going to be interested in seeing that, and by restricting who gets to, you remove the possibility of serendipity. That guy who you circled because of his fascinating posts about cooking just might be looking for a new camera. Not letting him see that is actually a disservice. After all, if he's not looking for one, ignoring your post is as easy as, well, doing nothing. A better use for circles on G+ is for focusing your incoming content into sub-streams that are more homogeneous, which might make it easier to read if you're not bouncing around lots of different topics from incoming post to incoming post. Or, using circles to quickly catch up on what close friends and family are doing, whose posts might get lost in the torrent of those high-volume political activists you're following, is incredibly easy. So, use circles mostly just for two purposes: (a) restricting access to outgoing posts for privacy (not relevance) reasons, and (b) focusing/filtering your incoming content for easier reading.

4)      Be consistent. Unless you're famous, it can be challenging to develop a social media community that you're comfortable engaging and sharing your online existence. It's going to be doubly difficult if you only pop in once or twice a week for a little while. While you may only be following a few (dozen/hundred) people, many of those who you want to see your original thoughts, reshared posts, or external links follow lots of people. As a result, your post might just be another drop in their otherwise fast-moving stream. I've not seen too many people satisfied with the quality of their G+ experiences who don't interact at least several times a week, if not daily. It doesn't need to be obsessive, but consistent attention matters a lot. Assuming you are making posts and comments people enjoy, the more frequently people see you (or, more accurately, your avatar), the more they'll start to value your presence in their stream and the more they'll engage you back. If you only appear once every blue moon, you'll never develop enough social persistence to become an indispensable thread in their online social fabric.

To sum up, I've found Google+ to be a rich, dynamic, and rewarding social network. But, to make the most of it, you'll need to do some introspection and understand what floats your boat; meaningfully engage those with similar passions; post publicly as much of your content as can be safely shared; and do all that regularly. If you do, I think you'll find Google+ quickly becoming a cherished part of your online, social experience.

After a relatively successful set of predictions for 2010, here are our prognostications for 2011.  Don't laugh...if history serves as a guide, several will come true...or mostly true.

1. The Apple iPad 2 (or whatever it's called) will be available with a front-facing camera and 4G (LTE), but will have the same screen resolution as the iPad.  We should know about April.

2. Nintendo will launch a new Wii console with HD output, DVD playback, and a Kinect-like video camera accessory.  I think the first two are a lock, but the third part of that is more wish than expectation.

3. At least one of the smartphone platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian, Blackberry, WP7, MeeGo, webOS, Bada) will go away for good.  My money is on Bada.

4. 3D will continue to grow, but not substantially and will mostly be relegated to gaming and in-theater movie experiences.

5. More Android tablets/slates will be sold in 2011 than iOS tablets/slates.  That assumes, of course, that the tsunami of Android slates we should see at CES results in products you can actually buy.

6. At least one of the DSLR manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax/Samsung, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma) will cease producing DSLRs and/or be acquired by another company.  My guess is Sigma, as I really have no idea how they can afford to put out mediocre (read "poorly selling") DSLR after mediocre DSLR.

7. By the end of 2011, Windows Phone will have the third largest app catalog (behind iOS & Android).  That shouldn't be too much of a stretch, as its growth curve means it'll surpass Blackberry's 15,000 apps or so in a few months.
 
8. Google will struggle to establish content licensing agreements for Google TV, ending 2011 with a still-lackluster platform.  Unless Google is willing to toss a bunch of cash at the networks, that is...it isn't going to win this on charm alone.

9. Facebook will become the 2nd largest (most trafficked) website in the world (overtaking Microsoft.com).  Heck...maybe the largest.  A reminder that being successful doesn't mean doing anything to significantly improve the human condition.

10. Twitter will be acquired by another company. Fingers crossed they aren't evil.
As is now a tradition, it's time to revisit our GearBits' predictions for 2010 to see if we were anywhere close to accurate. 
 
1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously. We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect. I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result. Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

thumbs-down.gifI'm REALLY happy that I got this one wrong. That is, of course, if you ignore the Chinese hacking of Google and other companies, and you don't consider WikiLeaks' activity "cyberterrorism" (I don't) or the "hacktivism" it prompted. Frankly, I was expecting some major outage -- a stock exchange taken down, a city's electrical grid compromised, or something on that order -- and it's great that that didn't happen in 2010. 
 
2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile. Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares. Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5. I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?). It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

thumbs-up.gifYep...mostly. Windows Phone 7 did not come out seeming "stale," but it was roundly criticized for lacking a long list of features found on other platforms (e.g., copy & paste, tethering, multitasking, etc.). While it certainly doesn't have the fleet of handsets that Android boasts, WP7 has launched on an impressive number of devices and carriers across the globe. Add to that the fact that WP7, just a few months after launch, already has more apps than webOS does after more than 18 months, Microsoft appears to have gotten more right than wrong and certainly enough to keep their seat at the smartphone table. 
 
3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010. Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

thumbs-up.gifBy any measure, 3D TV has been talked about in the press more than it's been brought into consumers' homes. In 2010, the combination of scant high-quality content and expensive/uncomfortable/incompatible gear failed to make 3D a compelling experience, and slow sales was the result.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010. I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users). However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

thumbs-up.gifThere's been relatively little discussion in 2010 of how social media should change search. While we saw a lot of sites become more integrated into social media, such as via Facebook's nearly ubiquitous "Like" button, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!'s attempts to add a social component to their search products never really gained traction. Clearly, it's harder than it seems to glean those rare nuggets of helpful, timely information from the vast noise of the social web.

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas. Coming soon to theaters near you.

thumbs-down.gifLooking back at 2010, I don't see any noticeable increase in "trans-genre" movies and TV shows. And maybe that's for the best, really. But, if the forthcoming "Cowboys & Aliens" is any indication, I just might've been a year early on this prediction. 
 
6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die. It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen. I just think it will. Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off. Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

thumbs-up.gifPretty much, yeah. ;-) 
 
7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010. Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing. As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.
thumbs-up.gifI'm going to give this one to me, but I'll admit that USB 3.0 adoption has been a bit softer than I thought it would be. I mean, we do now have motherboards, PCs, external external hard drives, and flash drives that all use USB 3.0, but it's clearly not ubiquitous yet. Wireless USB went nowhere in 2010, unfortunately, just as predicted. 
 
8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

thumbs-up.gifClearly a thumbs-up. You don't think Steve would've missed the grand unveiling of his "magical" iPad, now would you? 
 
9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market. The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

thumbs-down.gifBzzt! Wrong...thanks for playing. Sprint never got a buyout offer, but it did end 2010 on a much stronger note than it started the year. Not only has it met all its WiMax/4G rollout milestones, it is now being lauded for having among the best customer service in the US cellular market. Not that that's saying much ("tallest pygmy" and all that), but it's something. 
 
10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009. This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users). It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right. The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

thumbs-up.gifTwitter grew a lot in 2010, but not as quickly as it did in 2009. Two stats support this assessment. In 2009, Twitter grew from an Alexa "reach" rating of essentially zero to about a 5; in 2010, it grew from a 5 to about an 8. While that's another big increase, it's a smaller increase than in 2009. Also, in 2009, Twitter grew from 100 million tweets per quarter to 2 billion, a 1900% growth rate. In 2010, it grew from 2 billion to a around 8 billion quarterly posts, a 400% increase. So, while Twitter is still growing hugely, 2010 just wasn't as blockbuster of a year as 2009 was.
   

For 2010, things look pretty good: we got 7 right and 3 wrong.

Here are GearBits' previous years' predictions and results:

2004:Predictions,No Results
2006:Predictions,Results
2007:Predictions,Results
2008:Predictions,Results
2009:Predictions,Results
ceslogo.gifCES 2010 was fun. The International Consumer Electronics Show (its full name) is the world's largest trade show for gadgets, televisions, computers...pretty much everything in that fuzzy category of consumer electronics.  Sure, there are shows more focused on subsets, such as E3 for gaming, but CES is the king-daddy for the overall industry.

twitpic.gifI was there Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning.  I phototweeted (new term?) from the show floor while I was there, and my pics and comments are posted at Twitpic.

Now that I've had some time to unpack, soak my feet, and reflect on the experience, here's what comes to mind, in no particular order:

Wow It's Big! -- I've been to trade shows before, but nothing on the scale of CES.  I'm not really sure how much total floorspace the show takes up, but it spreads out across very nearly the entire Las Vegas Convention Center (which, by itself, is larger than the town I grew up in) plus two other nearby hotels. Some numbers that came in right as I was typing this entry: an estimated 120,000+ attendees, 2,500 exhibitors, and 20,000 new products announced. No wonder I felt like I'd need a week to really see everything.

No Seminal Announcement -- Unlike last year's webOS launch from Palm, which really stole the show, 2010 didn't see any particular event or surprise that caught everyone's attention.  I asked lots of people what they thought was the big thing and got lots of different answers...a few people were excited by all the 3D TVs, projectors, and laptops; some thought Google's Nexus One was big (although technically not a CES event...they held it just one day before); Boxee Box wowed some folks; and more than one mentioned Palm's flurry of announcements, but no singular thing captured all the buzz.

Ebooks A-plenty -- There were just scads of ebooks all over CES.  They ranged from cheapo Kindle knock-offs to high-end, portfolio-style, dual-screen devices.  The success of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have clearly excited what had previously been a rather quiet market niche.

ebooks1.jpgAndroid in Everything -- Google's free (mostly as in beer) operating system was crammed into all sorts of things, from gorgeous smartphones to touchscreen remote controls to hideously bad stationary videophones.  Mostly, at least it seemed to me, it was small Chinese and Korean companies doing this, but it does suggest the possibility of an interesting trend.

android1.jpgandroid2.jpg

TV Still Has Tons of Room for Innovation -- Four trends in TVs stood out clearly.  First was the ubiquitous 3D that you just couldn't escape. I'm still a skeptic that 3D TV in the home will become popular any time soon, although gaming, sports, and porn could change that.  Second, picture quality continues to improve.  I saw some LCD sets that truly rivaled plasma in black levels (but not in size). Third, LCD will be replaced in the near future.  I saw some AMOLED displays of reasonable size (20" or so) that looked flat-out amazing.  Oh, and they were 3D, too.  Finally, TVs are getting thinner by the minute.  As an example, Samsung's booth had a jaw-dropping display of crazy-thin LCD TVs (the video below is kind of short because, as you can hear at the end, I was asked not to take any photos); these will be shipping later this year!



Flying Stuff is Cool -- One of the show's major prize winners was the Parrot G Drone, a bigger and all-around better version of that remote control helicopter you like to taunt your roommates and/or family members with, but which has a remote video feed and you can pilot it with your phone.  Another guy was selling an RC X-Wing Fighter (not licensed by Lucas, I would expect, since he calls it the "Star Stryker"), which cost $299 and has the biggest remote control unit I've ever seen. Here's the video:


It's a Great Time to be a Fan of Mobile Tech -- All these reports say that nobody buys MIDs (mobile Internet devices, like the Nokia N810 or Microsoft's UMPC format), but you wouldn't guess that by looking at the CES exhibits.  There were so many slates and tablets, most powered by Windows 7, that I stopped getting excited about them.  And some of them were really impressive; Viliv had a whole line-up of interesting portables.

viliv.jpgSome other incompletely articulated thoughts:  car tech is getting interesting; Nokia's booth was pretty empty the few times I went past; few were very excited about Windows Mobile, either; there's a lot of garbage at CES, but at least they stick it in the "International Market" areas; LEGO has an interesting new MUD game coming out soon; geeks are attracted to exotic cars almost as much as they are to scantily-clad women...and they're equally unlikely to get much hands-on time; it's a good idea to have an actual working version of whatever it is you're trying to sell; there wasn't a lot of innovation in cameras that I saw...mostly around GPS embedding, which is cool; food is expensive there.

So, there you have it.  I hope to get back next year...it's a fun, if exhausting, experience.


As I have for several years now, below are my predictions for 2010.  Near the end of the year, I'll come back and evaluate how accurate I was.

1) Cyberterrorism Becomes a Significant Issue
We've all read reports and stories that say cyberterrorism (the act of attacking a country via its computer networks) is a growing threat and that the US should take it seriously.  We've even seen some limited cases where it was used to minor effect.  I expect 2010 will see the first major example of the damage cyberterrorism can achieve, and we'll all be much more aware of it as a result.  Sub-prediction: McAfee and Symantec sales grow significantly as a result.

2) Microsoft Launches Windows Mobile 7, Enough to Stay in the Game
The smartphone space is inhabited mostly by 6 key platform players: Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone, Android, webOS, and Windows Mobile.  Microsoft's recent endeavors in the mobile space haven't netted much (except perhaps some slight momentum on the media player side). WinMo 6.5 was late and generally uncompetitive with more contemporary offerings already in the marketplace. Pink was an absolute disaster. Even hardcore WinMo fans are getting restless for something really new. Windows Mobile 7 will have a daunting challenge in successfully fighting back against 5 competitors with better products and/or well-established market shares.  Windows Mobile 7, when it comes out in the latter half of 2010, will still seem a little stale in comparison, but much better than 6.5.  I do, however, fully expect 7 will tap into the other mobile products & services Microsoft has been cultivating, such as Bing and Zune (what is it with their onomotopoeic product names?).  It won't be a barnburner, but, with some help from HTC and a couple other big-name handset producers Microsoft can count on, they'll have a small stable of fairly impressive devices available by the end of the year.

3dtv.jpg3) 3-D Gets Even More Press but No Real Traction in the Home
3-D televisions and video players will be all over the place at CES, but their availability and technical trade-offs will keep them from seeing significant adoption in 2010.  Long-term, however, I think 3-D will eventually take off, but I doubt it will happen as long as viewers have to wear special glasses in order to not be nauseated by the image.

4) Fervor over Social Search Subsides but Doesn't Die Out
Social search (i.e., using real-time social media as sources of useful information for returning search results) is all the rage as we enter 2010.  I think that the major search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo!, et al.) will all figure out by the end of the year that, while social search has some promise for a small subset of queries, information produced by social media is largely junk and an unreliable source of value to their customers (search engine users).  However, there is some gold in them thar hills, and we'll start seeing the fruits of their efforts as they isolate those situations where social search can indeed be really, really valuable (e.g., product reviews and event status).

5) Movies and TV Shows Go Mashup...and Not in a Good Way
A lot of media producers seem to be running out of ideas, so I think they'll start going for unique combinations of themes and concepts to fuel their movies and television shows. Think space vampires and hot robot/android women battling killer zombies driving souped-up, well-armed cars really fast around Las Vegas.  Coming soon to theaters near you.

6) Apple Announces a Tablet
Yes, I'm a sucker for this rumor-that-will-not-die.  It's not like I'm even a fan of the tablet concept, so this isn't something I'm particularly hoping will happen.  I just think it will.  Imagine a 7"-to-10" iPhone Touch and you won't be too far off.  Oh, and it will be more expensive than anyone who isn't an Apple shareholder thinks is reasonable, yet it will sell quite well (at least initially).

superspeed-usb.jpg7) SuperSpeed USB Takes Off Quickly
I think we'll see SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) be adopted very rapidly in 2010.  Signs from motherboard and accessory makers are that they're very eager to adopt this recently ratified standard, and I think everyone would agree that faster USB connections is only a good thing.  As long as they don't screw up backward compatibility (one of the keys to USB 2.0 being as successful as it has been), it'll be another home run. On a related note, Wireless USB will not get the attention or traction we'd all like a stable, high-speed wireless connectivity standard to get, mostly because it just won't be as simple as plugging a wire into a hole.

8) Steve Jobs Gives an Apple Keynote Presentation
Might Sir Jobs be the "one more thing" at WWDC?

9) Sprint is Acquired
The cellular carrier's weak valuation and lackluster performance in retaining customers and attracting new ones, combined with its continued WiMAX roll-out will make it a target for some kind of merger or acquisition, likely by a European carrier looking to get entry into the US market.  The actual acquisition may not go through in 2010 due to extensive regulatory review, but the intent will be announced.

twitter-logo.jpg10) Twitter Grows at a Slower Rate than in 2009
Twitter will continue to gain new members faster than it loses them, but it will not see the huge surge it enjoyed in 2009.  This will mostly be because the company's management has a tenuous, at best, grasp on what its users want (leading it to make bad design decisions) and a business model that does not support both rapid growth and scalable, reliable service (thereby turning off users).  It's too bad, too, as Twitter could've become the next Facebook had they played their cards right.  The only thing that can save it is an acquisition...Google, perhaps?

So that's it for my 2010 predictions.  What do you think will happen in the upcoming year?

Now that we've reached the end of another calendar, in continuing a tradition I started in 2003, below is a review of my 10 predictions for 2009 and an assessment of how accurate I was on each one.

1) Microsoft Launches Windows 7 to Fanfare, Skepticism
Microsoft's two pillars of financial solvency -- Windows and Office -- have been standing on shaky ground recently. Office 2007 was a decent hit, despite it not offering much new and causing significant backward compatibility issues. But Windows Vista, on the other hand, has been an unmitigated disaster. Microsoft even had to resort to tricking users into liking Vista (Mojave, anyone?), it had developed such a bad reputation. Windows 7 will be launched late in 2009 to a general consensus of "it's better," but will not be the "wow" that Microsoft needs to regain the market share it has recently ceded to Apple. But maybe that's a good thing...having strong competitors is usually a good thing for consumer markets.

thumbs-up.gifWhen Windows 7 was officially launched October 22nd, by any measure, it came out to positive reviews and very good, if not great, sales. Of course, following a dog of a product like Vista will go a long way towards creating pent-up demand, so it wasn't unexpected. However, if you went by the press and hype, you'd think Microsoft was the underdog to Apple instead of still appearing on about 93% of all desktops. Windows 7 has slowed the slight shift towards OS X, but it's not clear yet that any ground is being made up.  Ironically, the best thing to happen to Windows in 2009 may have been the explosion of netbooks (more on that below).

2) Blockbuster Declares Bankruptcy
This may be a bit "out there," but I see exceedingly tough times at Blockbuster. And this isn't vindictiveness...I've been a reasonably happy Blockbuster.com customer for several years, now. I just think that, given the state of its business (poor), the weakness in the economy (near-critical), the nature of its service (luxury), and the rapidity with which that industry is transforming, I think Blockbuster will file for bankruptcy protection to get out of some of its debt, sell off some property (store locations that aren't faring well), and reinvest that into developing newer and more attractive services. So, they aren't going away...yet.

thumbs-down.gifAfter spending much of 2009 desperately raising capital and refinancing its debt, Blockbuster is trying a variety of tactics to stave off its own demise at the hands of an increasingly varied assortment of competitors.  Netflix and piracy, Blockbuster's perennial nemeses, are joined by Redbox in stressing the company's sweaty grip on life even further.  However, per part of my prediction, Blockbuster announced in early 2009 that it would be closing 128 physical stores.  That number was massively expanded late in 2009 to closer to 1,000 stores.  Additionally, Blockbuster is launching a large kiosk initiative.  It's amazing how consistently the company does exactly what its competitors do, but 2-3 years later.  However, Blockbuster did not enter into any form of bankruptcy during 2009, so I'm declaring this one a failed prediction.

3) Palm Launches New OS to Fanfare, Skepticism
We've all heard the rumors that Palm will be launching "Nova," its replacement for the ancient Palm OS, at CES 2009 in a few days. I'm pretty sure that's going to happen. I'm also pretty sure that Palm will have at least one new device, if not several, running the new OS available by the end of June. While launching phones can take a while, given the carriers' lengthy testing requirements, launching a PDA doesn't, so Palm could certainly come out with two (or more) non-phone PDAs running Nova pretty quickly. And it needs to...the TX is older than my grandmother (at least in technology years). Generally, I predict there will be more nice things said about Nova, and the new devices, than critical, and it will stack up fairly competitively with Android and WM 6.5. What I do not have a lot of faith in is Palm's ability to develop and deliver the ecology of services (e.g., app stores) that customers are now expecting their smartphones to be integrated into. Time will tell on that front.

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As we all now know, Nova was introduced as Palm webOS in January, 2009 at CES.  The first device running webOS was the Palm Pre, a nifty portrait QWERTY slider with HVGA multitouch screen.  Also during 2009, a second webOS device, the Palm Pixi, was announced and launched.  However, surprisingly, there were no non-phone webOS devices released.  In hindsight, I guess that makes sense, as Palm just doesn't have the resources (technical or financial) to launch 3+ separate devices in a single year.  Looking back, it's pretty clear that webOS and the Pre were well-received.  In fact, the Pre was the only smartphone to make it onto Twitter's Top-10 Trending Topics list for 2009, something neither the iPhone 3G S nor the Motorola Droid accomplished.  The two frustrating bits for Palm in 2009 have been Sprint's performance as a sole-carrier partner (in the US) for its new devices and the slow growth of the App Catalog.  However, both of these should be resolved in 2010...for Palm's sake, I hope so.

4) Blu-Ray Players Hit $99
During 2009, I think we'll see a raft of Korean and Taiwanese off-brand manufacturers launch budget Blu-Ray players. Just like the 2008 holiday sales saw BD players hit $149 in some stores, 2009 holiday sales will see them hit $99...if not sooner.

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As I type this, Wal-Mart is selling a Magnavox NB500MG1F Blu-Ray Player for $98.00.  While it's just a Magnavox, it does meet the minimum criteria for confirming this prediction.

5) Apple Launches a Tablet to Fanfare
This has been a persistent rumor for years, but I think 2009 will see it actually happen. Why? A few reasons. First, Apple is looking to multi-touch as a key differentiator in its product lines, and having a full-screen, large-display MT device would make total sense. Second, it fits perfectly with the needs of the "creative class," Apple's core customer base. And third, it fills out a hole in their mobile product line that netbooks and other devices not running OS X fill nicely, and that's not a good thing for Apple. So, the technology is ready, the market is willing...and now I think Apple will be able to meet the demand.

thumbs-down.gifHa ha ha ha...um, no.  While many, many individuals would love for that to happen (if only as additional blog fodder), Apple has not announced anything.  However, there is feverish excitement in OS X fanboy camps about the iSlate being launched at an Apple event in January, 2010.  Or not.

6) Consolidation in the Entertainment Industry
2009 will be a strange year on a lot of dimensions. Not only will the stock market be hard to predict, there will be a lot of odd relationships come out of the mess. One industry that is still poised to make things happen is the entertainment industry, where I expect we'll see larger firms (e.g., major movie studios) start to acquire smaller, but very successful, examples from the newer media (e.g., game producers). A good example of the type of transaction I'm imagining would be Vivendi acquiring Ubisoft. I think Time Warner would love to swallow up Electronic Arts, but that might be a bit too big a bite unless something untoward happens to EA's stock price over the next year.

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There were a number of major entertainment industry mergers and acquisitions in 2009.  One biggie was Disney scooping up Marvel Entertainment (comic books & movies) for $4 billion. While this deal hasn't been finalized, signs point to it going through. Another deal was the spin-off and merger involving Liberty Media Entertainment and DirecTV.  Is this a baby Time Warner in the making?  Hard to say, but I doubt it.  These two deals pale in comparison to what might turn out to be a merger of tectonic proportions:  Comcast buying 51% of NBC Universal.  If this goes through (in 2010), it will continue the trend of the same companies controlling the pipes and content, which could will cause consumers serious headaches in the years to come.  Or, they'll just continue to ignore the networks more and more and, instead, turn to the Internet for socially constructed content.  In that case, pray for net neutrality...it'll be our only hope.

7) Steve Jobs Announces Transition to New Role
I think concerns over Jobs' health have more merit than most of us want to admit. In 2009, I expect him to announce that he's transitioning into a different role than President and CEO of Apple (and CEO of Pixar). Something that keeps him out of the spotlight while he deals with his health issues will be valuable to keep Apple's stock price up and customer base intact. The move towards reducing his presence in near-term product launches is consistent with this strategy. But, he's far from gone...his influence will still be felt behind the scenes, but we'll see less of him in his traditional role as Apple poster boy.

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Despite many people calling me a pessimist, an Apple-hater, and worse, I stood by this prediction.  On January 5, 2009, Sir Jobs sent out this infamous note claiming that his health issues were minor and transient.  But then, just a few days later, he followed up with a bombshell that he was much sicker than that and he'd be leaving until mid-year.  Given his absence at keynotes and overall behavior reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz ("pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"), his role has clearly changed.  And I take no joy in being right; Jobs is clearly a genius and consumer electronics is better off with him at the height of his abilities.  I look forward to him giving the keynote at WWDC in June, 2010.

8) Facebook Membership Growth Flattens; Twitter Surges
Signs are pointing towards Facebook's popularity beginning to peak. Just as with everything social, when moms and dads begin to frequent the coffee shop, the kids need a new place to hang out. Facebook currently has almost 40 million members in the US. While that number has been skyrocketing since it opened up membership to anyone in September 2006, I think 2009 will see a marked deceleration in its growth. The loss of perceived exclusivity and the hassle of the relatively unprotected app space will combine to make it less appealing to many long-time users and new prospects will find fewer people urging them to get on board. Twitter, however, will see continued growth as it continues to tweak and adapt its environment to meet its core users' needs.

thumbs-down.gifWhile I'm counting this as a miss, it's actually 50% true.  Facebook's growth did not slow significantly as I'd predicted, but Twitter certainly did have the surge I thought was inevitable.

Let's look at some graphs:

facebook2009.gif

You'll notice that Facebook's growth is pretty continuous up until late 2009, where some outages and privacy issues potentially took away from its momentum.  Now, Twitter...

twitter2009.gif

This is a dramatic acceleration in Twitter's reach.  2009 will clearly go down in history as the year of Twitter.  In fact, Google and Microsoft so believed in it that they both inked deals to include Twitter's stream in their search engines as real-time results.

9) App Stores Dominate Mobile Software Delivery
iPhone's app store, Android's market...these types of bazaars, managed by the sponsors/manufacturers of the mobile operating systems, are coming to be the dominant mode for software distribution to mobile users. It marks a significant break from the traditional model, where mobile developers could sell software from their own sites, through 3rd party aggregators, and through carriers. This new approach is more streamlined, making it easier for users, but also more controlled, which can make it harder to accommodate large and complex ecosystems. The fact that each of the existing app stores serves a relatively small market is why we haven't seen these problems emerge to a point where they start driving users away. 2009 will see continued movement towards these controlled markets and away from the free-form/multi-channel models that previous mobile generations (e.g., Palm OS, Windows Mobile) relied on.

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Undoubtedly true. Apple paved the way with this new model and, by the end of 2009, the existence of a robust app store is a requirement for any smartphone platform to be considered a contender. Apple's App Store recently passed 100,000 apps while Android's App Market has around 15,000 titles.  Palm's App Catalog just left beta status and is closing in on 1,000 apps.  In 2009, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, and Symbian app catalogs were all launched as well.  Clearly, this is the dominant mobile app distribution model for the foreseeable future.

10) Line Blurs between "Netbooks" and Notebooks/Laptops
Netbooks are currently a fairly homogeneous, and well-defined, niche of laptop computers. Most of them have an Intel Atom processor, a screen from 8.9" to 10" in size, no optical drive, weigh between 2.2 and 3 lbs, and cost $300-$500. There's a big gap in pricing then between these netbooks and the subnotebooks/ultraportables that often have slightly larger screens, way more RAM and processing power, and cost $1,500 or more. To paraphrase the old adage, markets abhor a vacuum, so I expect we'll start seeing all manner of new small notebooks come into the market in this $500-$1000 range sporting screens in the 9"-12" range with anything from 512MB to 2GB of RAM, a variety of operating systems (XP and Linux will continue to be most popular), and a range of processing and display capabilities. Not everyone needs to play Crysis on their notebook, but not everyone can get by with a 1024x600 screen and do everything inside their browser.

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This was evident even early on in 2009, and now, at year's end, the trend is clearly supportive. While initial netbooks were all burdened with screens in the 8"-9" range, recently announced models have 11" and even 12" screens.  Surprisingly, the prices we're willing to pay for netbooks is increasing, too (clear up to $1,500 if you consider the impressively engineered Sony Vaio X).  Sure, it could just be that our definition of "netbook" is expanding.  But, it's hard to argue that the line between netbook and notebook is getting pretty diffused. 

So, looking back, my record for 2009 seems to be 7 right, 3 wrong...about in line with last year. Some of these were hard to determine, as I had packed in several related predictions into a single item, something I'll try not to do when I post my predictions for 2010 in the next day or two. Until then, let me know what you think in the comments below. 

Thanks, and have a great New Year!

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twitter.gifIf you're reading this because you've just followed me on Twitter, thanks...I appreciate it. If you did it solely so I'd follow you back, then you may be disappointed since I don't auto-follow everyone who follows me. If I don't follow you back, it may be because you run afoul of one of a few general guidelines I have.

I probably won't follow you if:

1) Your friends-to-followers ratio is well over 1:1 -or- you have way more friends than followers.
If you are following 1,200 people (i.e., have 1,200 friends) and only have 100 followers, then you're probably up to something. Perhaps you just joined and are trying to build up a huge followerbase by doing mass followings in hopes of snagging lots of auto-follows. In that case, I'm not going to contribute to your game.

2) You haven't tweeted in a long time, if ever.
Why should I follow you when you aren't contributing to the conversation?

3) You don't have a bio or a pic or a website. And no, Myspace pages don't count.
If you aren't going to reveal anything about yourself, why should I follow you? Give me a reason to find you interesting.

4) I'm not finding your recent tweets very thought-provoking, entertaining, or compelling in some way.
You may be doing everything right, but I still may not follow you. Sorry...it might just be that we don't have much in common...it happens. Or, perhaps your tweeting every meal, belch, and bowel movement just doesn't do it for me.

5) You're offensive.
I don't follow raving lunatics, extremists of any kind (political, religious, sports fans, etc.), people who express themselves only in crass banalities, or those who TYPE IN ALL CAPS.

6) You're on Twitter solely to sell me something.
Are you an SEO? Social media expert? Online marketing consultant? Bean curd and flaxseed extract vendor? Sorry...I'm not interested and far too busy bored with you to listen to your pitch.

7) You play games following and unfollowing.
Update: I just was reminded of another reason. If you follow me and then unfollow me shortly afterwards when I don't follow you immediately, and then follow me again when I do follow you, you're getting unfollowed and blocked. You're not only annoying, but you're gaming the system and I don't like it.

Most likely, if you're an actual person with a bio, a photo, and something reasonably interesting (IMO) to say, I'll follow you right back. But if not, well, consider this post our official "it's not me, it's you" talk.

p.s. If you've landed here from my Twitter profile page and aren't finding it very useful to discover just who this schlub called Craig Froehle is, then check out my abbreviated GearBits bio or the longer bio on my personal website.

I'm losing a battle, the battle to keep my personal online self separated from my work/professional online self. And losing that battle has some potentially serious consequences.

In the 15 or so years I've been "on the web," I've tried to maintain a division between my personal life and my professional life. The reason is pretty simple: some of the things I might say or do with friends and family might be incompatible with expectations for my behavior as whatever kind of professional I'm employed as at the time.

I'm not talking anything scandalous...no KKK activities, secret families, or felony indictments...but statements and actions that might seem totally innocuous in one context and to one person (e.g., joking with an old friend) might seem out-of-place in another context to a different person (e.g., to a student or client).

golden_rule_digital_era.gifAnd that division is slowly eroding...slipping away as my ability to keep one "life" separate from the other disintegrates. Some of my work colleagues and students have started following me on Twitter and friending me on Facebook (hi, folks!), places that I've never intended to engage anyone from work (with, perhaps, a few exceptions). More confounding is LinkedIn, on which I have a complete cross-section of associations from every corner of my personal and professional lives.

Many of those connections, and the overall intermixing of my personae, are, admittedly, my own fault. When I initially set up Facebook, I accidentally let it troll through my Gmail addressbook and send out automatic invitations. Newbie mistake. On Twitter, my profile is open, meaning anyone can follow me. And, I also have this tendency to only use my real name online; I never felt comfortable hiding behind a quasi-anonymous pseudonym or fake profile. All considered, I really only have myself to blame for allowing the online division between my personal self and my work self to blur.

So what does this mean? I think it means that my online "self" will have to be much more thoughtful and considerate of the implications, for every facet of my life, of my actions online. A bawdy joke told in a small, yet public, mailing list could easily find its way to my boss' desk. A thoughtless, or even mean-spirited, comment could ultimately offend a co-worker. These unintended consequences are like civilian casualties in a war; collateral damage from acting thoughtlessly in a casual space that is, ultimately, connected in a very real sense to one's professional environment.

Perhaps this is precisely what all those Gen-Y kids were learning when their Facebook profiles and Myspace pages were being used by potential employers as reasons to not hire them; 27 photos of you drunk off your butt at a fraternity party doesn't tend to impress the HR department very much.

So, the bottom line is this, what I'm calling my Golden Rule for the digital era:

Treat others online the way you want them to treat you in person.

If I treat every interaction, whether online or face-to-face, as if it were happening in person, I'm sure there would be times I would handle it differently. Is it better to have less freedom to do as my basest reactionary self wants, less consideration for the human on the other end of the bitpipe? No, I think society has always relied on our ability to reign in that temptation. And the Internet changes nothing in that regard, except, perhaps, to give us more opportunities to screw up.

So, now, going forward, the real test is seeing if I can live by that rule of mine. Wish me luck!

Six years ago today, I fired up GearBits for the first time with no idea what would become of it. I was pretty sure I had no desire to turn it into a business (been there, done that), but, apart from that, I wasn't at all certain what I'd write about, how frequently, or in pursuit of what objectives (if any).

Now, it's pretty clear that GearBits has gone through several stages in its short life. At first, it was a curiosity...a chance to learn about blogging, host a webserver, and some other aspects of a techno-centric life that are best acquired through hands-on experience.

Then, I invited some friends to play. Mitch, Sam, and Ken, and later Bob, all brought unique voices, but as the site was never more than a casual outlet for occasional thoughts, it never really gelled with any of them. But, seeing friends contribute their thoughts and ideas in ways very different than I would have was educational for me and a lot of fun.

As their interest vacillated, my own did as well. While I continued to post, it became much more sporadic. I deviated from technology and consumer electronics more heavily into politics around the 2004 and 2008 elections, primarily as a cathartic tool...one small voice calling out the absurdities and injustices.

Then, in Spring 2008, something happened that changed how I see my blog entirely: Twitter. I've become a bit of a Twitterholic. As my brain is rather limited in its capacity for complex thought, many of the things I think seem to fit nicely in 140 characters or less. Since my joining Twitter less than a year ago, I've made nearly 4,000 posts (tweets). Compare that to less than 1,200 posts on GearBits in six-year span.

But why? Thinking about it, it seems there are three reasons: convenience, engagement, and reduced expectations. First, posting to Twitter is incredibly convenient; I can do it through text messages, via the web interface, on custom apps...all easy and quick. Second, given the size of the community on Twitter, it's easy to be engaged in conversations and get feedback very quickly. That's rewarding, so it prompts me to do it more often. Comments work here, too, but they're not nearly as quick and convenient to post, read, or respond to.

Third, and perhaps most surprising (to me), is that I've always felt like anything I post on GearBits needed to have some meat...be substantial. While I clearly didn't always accomplish that, I almost always strived for it. On Twitter, however, there's no such pressure to create meaningful content. When giving a talk, every sentence matters. When chatting with friends, however, there's a much lower bar to clear. And that's the way Twitter feels to me.

So, will I continue with GearBits? Probably...almost definitely. I want to continue having my own server -- it's just too convenient. Since that's in place, hosting Movable Type isn't a huge amount of incremental effort or cost. A second reason GearBits will continue is that I will, from time to time, have information I'd like to "put out there" that doesn't easily fit on a tweet. Product reviews, short essays (like this one), graphical content, etc. all fit much better on a proper blog than on Twitter. Finally, there's value in what I've already done. I don't get huge numbers of people at GearBits...a thousand or so each day...so, if it were to go away, it's not like the masses would rise up and demand I put it back up. But, during the six years I've been adding content, there are some pages that a nontrivial number of people seem to find helpful (see the most frequently commented entries, for example). So, if having it around helps a couple people a day fix a problem or make a better tech decision, then that's more than enough.

Thanks for reading (if anyone actually does) and I'll hopefully see you in another six years.

twitter-custsupp.jpgPC Magazine posted a list of 10 companies using Twitter in interesting, novel ways. One of the more common uses was as a customer service channel, such as what Palm and some folks from Sprint have been doing.

And it's fairly easy to do. With Twitter's search engine, it's relatively painless to stay abreast of any mention of your company or its branded services. Monitoring this constantly is essential to initiating timely contacts with customers who mention they are having problems.

But, before companies jump into offering customer service via a novel medium like Twitter, some caution should be taken; while the payoff of an innovative move like this can be significant to your customers, there are easy mistakes to be made. So, a quick list of some general lessons:

1) Twitter isn't the best option for most, or even many, of your customers

For part of my PhD dissertation, I worked with customer support of a major ISP researching how they interact with customers over various channels (at the time, it was phone, email, and IM). We found that different problem types and different customer needs were most effectively handled via different media (due to the characteristics of those media)...there was not one medium that did the best under all circumstances.

So what does this mean when using Twitter? Different customers are going to have different needs. Some are going to have very simple problems that can be addressed quickly and are going to be fairly matter-of-fact/rational about the issue. Twitter could be a terrific medium for those kinds of situations.

But, many customers are going to have complex problems, be upset about the problem, or both. In these cases, Twitter is unlikely to be the best choice. In these situations, the 140-character limitation of Twitter makes it really difficult to engage in complex conversations with completeness and clarity. And in cases where the customer is upset or angry, you need to convey empathy and concern. The terseness required in Twitter is just not adequate for mollifying emotional customers.

2) Use Twitter to route customers to better support channels in your firm

Instead of trying (and likely failing) to address customers' issues via interaction on Twitter, use that opportunity to direct customers to those other people/channels in your company who can best handle them. But don't just rely on a message like the following:

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You clearly risk losing the customer. Instead, ensure the hand-off happens by getting the customer's contact information (obviously best if done via direct message) and then passing that onto the appropriate channel so a support rep can then join and continue the conversation that was started on Twitter through whatever medium is best suited for the problem at hand (phone, email, etc.).

3) Failures are public spectacles

happy_quote.jpgIt's important to remember that Twitter is a social medium. Any failure on your part to soothe an aggravated customer could easily turn into a public shouting match, even if the shouting is only one way. And to make matters worse, that conversation is persistent, there for the customer to reference for any and all friends to view. A happy customer might tell a friend, but an unhappy one will tell the world. And, since that unhappy customer is already sitting there in front of a potentially huge social network, that negative word-of-mouth can spread quickly. This makes it just that much more important to avoid long, public conversations with upset/angry customers on social networks like Twitter. If the customer wants to vent, let them rant over a medium that is isolated away from public scrutiny and where they are guaranteed to have the customer rep's undivided attention.

4) Do it well, or don't do it

As social media are still fairly new to many companies, it's tempting to let an employee or two who are particularly interested in the medium "try it out" informally, perhaps even during off-hours. This approach is unlikely to result in highly satisfied customers for a few reasons. First, the hand-offs mentioned in #1 above are unlikely to happen smoothly and quickly, thus risking further alienating a customer already having problems. Second, these employees who are interested may not be the best people in your company to do this; they may not even be customer support professionals with appropriate training and/or people skills. And third, a lack of formality means that key lessons may not be captured in order to help improve future efforts at using social media for customer service.

No, instead, set up a quick team with appropriate resources. This doesn't have to be, nor should it be, a several-month project to assemble the team and create policies and document processes. But, some level of formality can be helpful, even if it's simply a list of contacts within the company for handing off different types of problems/customers and a regular (e.g., daily) huddle to share insights and set expectations. This will likely be a very new way to engage the customer, so learning is inevitable. You're unlikely to get it perfect from day one, but getting there as quickly as possible is the key to creating an advantage over your competitors.

I'm always interested in how our personalities affect what we do, think, and say. Now, there's a tool that uses the Myers-Briggs type indicator personality framework to analyze your writing.

Following up on a tweet from @bshermcincy, I submitted GearBits.com to the Typealyzer and it popped out this analysis:

estp.gif

Keirsey.com labels ESTP profiles "Promoters" and says "Clever and full of fun, Promoters live with a theatrical flourish which makes even the most routine events seem exciting." I guess that makes sense given that not all gadget reviews are inherently exciting and many need a bit of hyperbole to make them interesting.

But that ESTP seemed somewhat different than the profile M-B tests have generated for me in the past, so I self-administered the 72-question instrument here and came up with the more familiar INTJ. INTJs are described as follows (courtesy of Keirsey.com):

Rational Portrait of the Mastermind (INTJ)

All Rationals are good at planning operations, but Masterminds are head and shoulders above all the rest in contingency planning. Complex operations involve many steps or stages, one following another in a necessary progression, and Masterminds are naturally able to grasp how each one leads to the next, and to prepare alternatives for difficulties that are likely to arise any step of the way. Trying to anticipate every contingency, Masterminds never set off on their current project without a Plan A firmly in mind, but they are always prepared to switch to Plan B or C or D if need be.

Masterminds are rare, comprising no more than, say, one percent of the population, and they are rarely encountered outside their office, factory, school, or laboratory. Although they are highly capable leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead. Once they take charge, however, they are thoroughgoing pragmatists. Masterminds are certain that efficiency is indispensable in a well-run organization, and if they encounter inefficiency-any waste of human and material resources-they are quick to realign operations and reassign personnel. Masterminds do not feel bound by established rules and procedures, and traditional authority does not impress them, nor do slogans or catchwords. Only ideas that make sense to them are adopted; those that don't, aren't, no matter who thought of them. Remember, their aim is always maximum efficiency.

In their careers, Masterminds usually rise to positions of responsibility, for they work long and hard and are dedicated in their pursuit of goals, sparing neither their own time and effort nor that of their colleagues and employees. Problem-solving is highly stimulating to Masterminds, who love responding to tangled systems that require careful sorting out. Ordinarily, they verbalize the positive and avoid comments of a negative nature; they are more interested in moving an organization forward than dwelling on mistakes of the past.

Masterminds tend to be much more definite and self-confident than other Rationals, having usually developed a very strong will. Decisions come easily to them; in fact, they can hardly rest until they have things settled and decided. But before they decide anything, they must do the research. Masterminds are highly theoretical, but they insist on looking at all available data before they embrace an idea, and they are suspicious of any statement that is based on shoddy research, or that is not checked against reality.

Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Dwight D. Eisenhower, General Ulysses S. Grant, Frideriche Nietsche, Niels Bohr, Peter the Great, Stephen Hawking, John Maynard Keynes, Lise Meitner", Ayn Rand and Sir Isaac Newton are examples of Rational Masterminds.

Given the work I do and my albeit limited degree of self-awareness, it seems to fit quite well (if you know me IRL and have a different opinion, let me know).

But why the difference between my writing's ESTP profile and my "normal" INTJ? That will take some looking into, but my guess is that I don't feel a need to juice things up in day-to-day life, but can be very enthusiastic when writing about something because I know I won't be there to convey my thoughts in person. That's just a guess, but it's an interesting difference nonetheless.

If you try this, let me know if you come up with different profiles as well.

It's been about 8 months since our first Hot/Not List, so I thought I'd post an updated one:

HOT

  • Logitech Squeezebox - After Logitech's acquisition of Slim Devices, a lot of fans of the smaller company's products were concerned that innovation would halt and corporate fossilization would set in, as happens in so many of these cases. Well, it couldn't be further from the truth. Slim's innovative products are benefiting from Logitech's branding and distribution muscle and the combined firm is churning out really impressive audio streaming devices. Our home audio ecosystem now consists of a Squeezebox Duet controller, two receivers, and a Boom; these three cover about 80% of the house and it's wonderful to have perfectly synced music streamed throughout without breaking the bank.
  • Palm - The Pre smartphone was the buzz of CES and is still making strong headlines at MWC. Sprint may have a winner on its hands with this new device.
  • Sprint - Coming off a really impressive turnaround regarding its customer service and anticipation of its 4G wireless network, Sprint could be poised for strong growth in the next few years.
  • Aptera - So far, this innovative hypermileage boutique car-maker in California has avoided some of the pitfalls that its performance-oriented sibling Tesla Motors has made, and the 2e vehicle it should be shipping very soon looks like it could be a key evolutionary link in transforming the way we think about cars.
  • Twitter - Easily the most addictive thing I've tried recently.
  • Windows 7 - Sure, it's still in beta, but I am SO looking forward to its release. As much as I've panned Vista over the years, I think 7 will be a winner.

NOT

  • Cloud-Based Contact Management - Even with Google's recent improvements to Gmail Contacts, there are no really excellent cloud-friendly contact management solutions available. The best I've found is ClearSync, and that isn't as widely compatible as most would like.
  • Battery Technology - Seriously...scientists and engineers have been working on this for decades and we're still not fundamentally better than we were 20 years ago.
  • Obese Netbooks - Almost by definition, a "netbook" should be incredibly lightweight. Why, then, are we seeing netbooks weighing over 3 lbs released to market??
  • Winter - by definition. I am quite ready for Spring, thanks very much.
  • Digital Transition Delay - We set the date for February 17th, and now Congress is pushing it back to June 12 for those stations that want extra time. Why? Delaying it doesn't solve anything and, in fact, actually increases the costs of the conversion and sows more consumer confusion. Clearly a lose-lose proposition.