November 27, 2008

Ten Tech Things I'm Thankful For

I don't know about you, but some of the technology we take for granted still seems exciting and mysterious to me. Ever stop in the middle of your laptop and say - wow... I'm seeing streaming video, live, wirelessly in high quality? Ever stop when on a cell phone and realize you're talking to someone thousands of miles away and hearing them respond in real time? It may seem like we take these things for granted, and only speak up when there are problems, but that's far from the truth. On this Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I'd highlight ten things I'm grateful for that impact us in a positive way.

1) I'm Thankful for a Competitive Culture of Curiosity

Without curiosity and aggressive competition, innovation would be at a near stand-still. Experimentation, testing and looking for new markets or way to improve existing markets or products enables new ideas to develop, and new approaches to be found for existing products and activity. In Silicon Valley, entrepreneurialism is encouraged and celebrated, and it's actually okay to fail or work at a failed company multiple times in one's career, so long as you keep trying.

2) I'm Thankful for Expanding Bandwidth and Data Storage

Any of us can look backward at our first computers, and modems, and laugh at how many megabytes of RAM or hard disk space we had, or how we might have tried to get to the Internet at 4-digit baud speeds. Over the decades, you've seen a move on the network side from 10 megabit to 100 megabit, through 10 gigabit on the corporate side, and to high-speed broadband for consumers, not to mention 3G for iPhones and other wireless gadgets. Hard disks have grown from megabytes to gigabytes and now terabytes, enabling higher quality images, video, music and other data exchanges to take place quickly and be stored longer. The growth of bandwidth and data storage has essentially paved the way for the online software repositories, iTunes, YouTube and many other intensive Web apps that are powering today's digital economy.

3) I'm Thankful for The Removal of Geographic Barriers

We may have to get a passport to travel from country to country, but online, I'm talking and engaging with people from around the globe every day. While places like the Silicon Valley still maintain a lead in terms of available networking opportunities, the Web lets me connect with entrepreneurs in Europe, bloggers in Australia, India, and Canada, or around the world. In fact, just a few weeks ago I managed to reach Robert Scoble by cell phone when he was traveling in China, as I'd mistakenly thought he'd already come home. While it would take a day of travel to see him, I could get him live with a few taps on the iPhone. Also, I've befriended people from a wide variety of countries and places around the United States on the myriad of social networks.

4) I'm Thankful for the Ease of Publishing

The Web has dramatically increased the potential to publish in real-time over the last few years. For free, I can register to send short updates to Twitter, or full-length blog posts to Blogger, WordPress or TypePad. There is no application to fill out, or editorial board to approve content. The ease of publishing lets anyone with a voice or something to share get out there quickly to all interested to see.

5) I'm Thankful for the Ease of Discovery

There's a reason Google is thought of as the most successful company of our generation. They focused on the ease of searching and discovery of all the world's information - starting with the World Wide Web at large, and expanding to images, videos, books, news, and trying to ease discovery across different languages with translation tools. Google, and others, expanded to desktop search and discovery to let you find even your own documents. This ease of discovery speeds academia and business, and lets even the most obscure opinions or publications be found, assuming you're on topic and the searcher uses the right keywords.

6) I'm Thankful for the Ease of Data Mobility

Yesterday, I saw a road sign saying "5 1/4 miles" to our destination, and it reminded me of the old 5 1/4" floppy disks, which gave way to 3 1/2" floppy disks, Zip drives, USB keys, and of course, attachments by e-mail, which negated the need for much of the portable physical media. Now, I know that my data is accessible from the Web on essentially any computer or mobile device, no matter where I am. All my e-mail accounts flow to the iPhone. All my bookmarks are synched from my home computer to the iPhone, and I can log into any of my online accounts from any computer to pull down my data or get my personal experience.

7) I'm Thankful for the Ease of Access to People

The combination of the ease of publication and discovery makes it easier than ever to find ways to contact people, by phone, by e-mail, or through social networks where they are active. The old days of the Yellow Pages and White Pages and Blue Pages that you needed to thumb through to find local businesses or your neighborhood directory are gone, replaced by personal address books that stay on your computer and cell phone, and online directories that are searchable. Additionally, those who publish are often easily reachable, even if just through comment pages on their site, giving you a platform for conversation and exchange.

8) I'm Thankful for the Opportunity to Exchange Ideas

Nobody is an expert on everything, but just about everyone is an expert on something. Where I have weaknesses, or limited understanding, it is fairly easy now to find resources or individuals who have strength, and who are open to discussion. Combined with the ease of discovery and publication, rather than posting items here and waiting for people to answer, I can go to these sources and engage with them where they want to engage at their point of comfort - be it on their preferred social network, their blog, their user forum or bulletin board.

9) I'm Thankful for the Acceptance and Promotion of Standards

As technology consumers, we have our idiosyncrasies. I may prefer to use Mac OS X computers, and use the Safari Web browser. You may prefer Windows Vista, and like Internet Explorer or Firefox. But, in theory, our Web experience should be the same. While there was a time when Mac documents and PC documents or Mac formatted disks and PC formatted disks were wildly different and non-transferrable, both platforms have practically unified so documents and applications are largely equivalent on all platforms and an experience can be universal. The acceptance of standards for all things on the Web, from the GIF and JPEG standards to those for HTML, Java, CSS and PHP, ensure that Web sites and applications can increasingly behave appropriately and within guidelines, regardless of the consumer's setup and geography. While I know things could still improve, the community has made incredible strides in pursuing unity.

10) I'm Thankful for Never Accepting the Status Quo as Good Enough

Where much is given, much is expected. As Web bandwidths increase, as disk storage increases, as ease of access increases, and the number of people getting on the Web and using it for all aspects of commerce, friendship, and communication increases, the capability of each site and application gains the potential for improvement. And I've yet to meet a site or an application that simply stops working, saying they have stopped all bugs, and that the experience could not possibly get any better. Google is constantly improving and experimenting with their search index and results. Microsoft and Apple are constantly rolling out new iterations to their operating systems, their applications and their Web browsers. And startups are always coming and going, not just in an effort to make the people working there some money, but because they want to make a real difference through leveraging the cutting edge of technology.

As a consumer and as someone who for more than a decade has worked in Silicon Valley, looking to help develop and distribute differentiated products that aid customers, I know I will never accept what we have as good enough. But I appreciate the opportunity to exchange ideas, to reach new people, to discover new content and to publish where I can. That's part of what's enabled exchanges such as this. What are you thankful for in the world of technology and what do you believe I left out?