Will NFC be a slow starter in 2011 or is this the year?

Near Field Communications

So we’re past CES 2011, and of the many mobile and tablet device announcements, none in particular has included any big announcements around NFC (near field communication) support. Wasn’t this supposed the be the year? Where are the goods?

Since the first time I saw NFC demo’d at a Nokia research center in Cambridge years ago, I was captivated by the potential it represented in all sorts of transactions. From offers, to payments, to location based check-ins, there’s loads of potential here with very little for the end-user to do to opt-in. No specific applications needed, no sign-ups, just tap and be on your way. When you think about it, it’s really the way things should be right? Even traditional media outlets such as Businessweek are starting to pick up on NFC so awareness is getting there.

And before you ask “what about QR codes” forget about it. Despite many publishers and marketers piloting QR code implementations, it’s clearly crashed and burned before it ever got off the runway with NFC coming. Think about the user experience of QR codes in this hypothetical scenario:

Customer see’s a QR code in a display or printed advertisement. Assuming that the customer both knows what it is and what to do next they pull out one of the many devices on the market, most which ship without software to read the codes. Ok, let’s assume the ad tells them the name of one of many campaign specific QR code readers out there and the customer is willing to search it out and install it. Several minutes later (if they’re patient and have a good connection), bam! They’ve successfully scanned the code to what must of been a pretty compelling and clearly articulated value proposition.

Now replace that whole experience with a simple tap of a NFC supported device. The customer sees the logo at the top of the post, knows what it is, and taps away. The customer doesn’t need to think to opt-in, and they can review or fulfill any of the thought process steps involved later at their convenience.

So is the year for NFC? It’s early and I think there is plenty on the horizon. But if anything, Google’s recently released Samsung Nexus S with built in NFC support should be an industry driver, just like the features that the Nexus One bore a year before (faster processing, more memory, etc..). NFC is an eventuality, it’s how soon it gets here is what remains to be seen.

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MBA Symposium – Gary Hamel

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I attended BU’s MBA Symposium this past Saturday. It was a well organized event with some great speakers and break-outs. One that stuck out was Dr. Gary Hamel (beaming in from the silicon valley, very big-brotherish). It was an inspiring speech to say the least but here are some of the points that really stood out for me:

Accountability should go up the org chart as well as down: Hamel described companies where reviews and complaints were placed in tickets and opened up publicly for all the company to see. Management had to respond to these tickets and close them other wise it affected their compensation. Talk about flipping management on it’s head.

Leadership is a privilege, not a right: In the said company, there were no titles or hierarchy. No one was given a leadership based on tenure. Instead teams would agree and ask someone to be a leader based on their demonstrated abilities. A good indicator if someone was in a leadership role was if people responded to meeting invites.

There were just a few of an hour-long brilliant speech. You can read Dr Hamel’s article at the Wall Street Journal.

Blame the iPhone: ESPN.com dumps almost all Flash

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I bet some of you are sports fans and have already seen ESPN.com’s new layout for their website. Design wise, a huge leap forward, still very rich and engaging and much easier to navigate. But there is something markedly different here. What you ask? Well the only thing left on it that’s still Flash based are the banner ads and video players. This is a huge departure from the old design which heavily relied on all sorts of widgets and small rich applications to visualize everything from real-time data such as game scores, to player stats. Now they seem to have replaced most of this with DHtml and Ajax. And it works beautifully.

In some ways this is a win for Adobe since if ESPN still picks them to ditribute their enomormous ammount of programming they clearly still have a firm grip on video distribution online (The video does look stunning). Yet interactive features that used to live inside flash such as search, comments, and stuff like star ratings are all outside the swf, just as other video rich sites like Hulu does. ESPN.com used to be a real mantle piece for Flash, and I really think the iPhone’s lack of support has had some hand in leading them to this approach. It’s smart in a lot of ways because you’re not plug-in dependent and only rely on the browser to render the bulk of your content. One thing I have to note as well is that now I get faster load times and less spinning beach balls on my Mac which points to better all around performance.

I love Flash and Adobe gained a lot of ground with MX 2004 in getting it to be looked at as a real application solution rather than an animation toy. Unless they continue to innovate, make Flash even more ubiquitous on even more platforms, and get performance better than ever, they may become a banner ad and artists tool for good someday.

2008 Professional Laundry List

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2008 is over, thank god. But along with an ailing economy and painful marketplace came a lot of good things. So anyways, here’s my year in review:

    Launched a number of rich applications with my employer Fidelity that I’m very proud of. Look forward to doing that in 2009 as well, hope to continue to raise the bar.

    I spoke at Harvard University, led a lively talk with staff and the user group organizers.

    Was a speaker at a Forum Nokia event with several colleagues in the industry.

    Created and produced a podcast series with friends from BAMaDUG to critical acclaim.

    Made dozens of contacts in the mobile industry at meetups and conferences such as Mobile Internet World, Mobile Monday and MiTX.

    Founded and launched a social venture (still in stealth mode bit will be public soon).

    Participated in beta testing for several Adobe products, under NDA so no comment 🙂

    Broke down and bought an iPhone… after the intimate talk I saw by Phil Schiller (who’s doing the final MacWorld keynote this week in place of Steve Jobs) I couldn’t help myself. The developer tools are fantastic and I’ve already hit the ground running in getting some apps built. Look for that in Q1 this year.

I’m looking forward to what 2009 brings and have a good head of steam for the coming year. I’m excited to be booked for Flash on the Beach in Miami as well Flash on Tap in Boston. I’ll continue finishing my studies at Suffolk and look forward to finishing my MBA and will be a regular at industry events as usual. Look forward to seeing you all.

The Dos and Donts of Software Evangelism

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I think I first was introduced to the concept of software evangelism back in the mid-nineties when I first met Guy Kawasaki at Macworld Boston when Gil Amelio was train-wrecking the company. The idea seemed like a novel one and since hind-sight is 20-20, it was clearly a brilliant marketing concept allowing for reaching a broader range of customers while enfranchising the development community. Of course Steve Jobs came back to Apple and Guy left soon after… in my opinion Apple wasn’t big enough for both Guy and Steve. Nonetheless, they have both been extremely successful since parting ways.

Software evangelist’s are now common place in most tech companies, and the role has evolved considerably. The lines are blurry in what exactly the responsibilities of them are from company to company, but I think I’ve got a good perspective of what makes a good one and a bad one based on my personal dealings with them. If you’re an evangelist, here’s a quick list to maybe take a look at:

    Do:

    Answer all email’s from customers, no matter how ridiculous of mundane. Worst offense of this is when I would see an email of a somewhat difficult question on forums and not hear a peep, yet easy questions were answered quickly in the same time-frame. Silence really speaks volumes in cases like this and calls to attention integrity and expertise.

    Don’t:

    Shamelessly and relentlessly trash your competitor publicly on web forums like Twitter and Facebook. Even I have bias and preferences, but I’d like to think that good products speak for themselves and because of that I can remain agnostic. Let the community trash talk for you, they’re the best barometer of if something is “better” than something else.

    Do:

    Operate a personal blog and reveal a little of yourself to the community, even with off-topic posts of your personal life. Like mountain-climbing or Anime? Tell us. These tidbits create in-roads to folks who may not be inclined to reaching out, unearthing opportunities otherwise hidden.

    Don’t:

    Be aloof at conferences and events with a generic “no comment” to most questions. I understand NDA’s and the need to keep quiet on competitive product news but there is a lot that can be done to mitigate this. Deflect the topics to ones that you can talk about or try and on-board these folks legally. Usually the people asking these questions are smart, get them under an NDA and get some valuable customer data rather than turn them away.

These are just a few examples I’ve seen from BIG companies and I bet more than a few of my friends could think of specific people I’m talking about. I won’t identify them, but I will identify someone who I think is a great evangelist.

Chuck Freedman from Ribbit is in my book, the quintessential evangelist. He’s smart, personable, and approachable on many levels and keeps his small yet growing developer-base updated and involved. Evangelists at big companies may want to take notice of Chuck’s work.

I know, half of the job is marketing and holding the torch for your company/product but take this advice from me as your customer. It’s politics. Be a good politician and you’ll be successful.

I’m Speaking at Harvard

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There’s something I thought I’d never say. Yup, little old me is very excited to be addressing some of Harvard University’s faculty and staff next week at this months’ Harvard Flash User Group Meeting. The details are below:

    Fidelity Investments has been extremely successful in defining, architecting, and building a variety of industry leading and award-winning rich media experiences for our customer base. The session will provide an overview of how technologies are identified and developed for maximum flexibility and scalability from a product life-cycle management perspective. Several real world examples will be showcased of how Fidelity has used Flash technology to drive business, educate our customers, and extend our brand across mobile and desktop devices. Come see how interesting and exciting even financial services can be when you add a touch of Flash.

I’ll admit, I avoid “The People’s Republic” most of the time and prefer Boston proper but I’m really look forward to this. Especially since my brother “Unca Mike” is currently a Harvard student. I believe it’s somewhat open to the public so check their policies for details if you’d like to come.

Who Needs Premium Cable when there’s Justin.tv?

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So I’m trying to figure out how to watch my alma-mater the Boston College Eagles take on the University of South Florida (who?) last weekend and to my dismay, it’s only being carried by ESPN on their exclusive ESPN-U channel. Okay, even though my wife will kill me, I’ll just buy it, right? Wrong. Comcast does not offer the channel. Bummer.

Undeterred, I turned to the internet. Video’s easy now right? There has to be something out there. Came up with what I thought was nothing and then 10 pages into a Google search I see a Justin.tv link. Sure enough… seconds later I was watching the game streamed live over the web. While not great quality, it was better than good enough. The best part was the in-game chat, funny and engaging as you can see in the pic.

There’s no question that this is indeed copyright infringement, you can’t legally rebroadcast television programming for your own audience. But if it’s out there and I have no other option, I’ll watch it. This is the power of the web and maybe the cable carrier’s might want to take notice here. The work arounds will always be there unless you can offer the service yourself at a reasonable price. Take a hint from the Napsters, and Hulu’s out there, create something of value that I can buy. Until then, I’ll be watching for free on Justin.tv. BTW… BC won. GO EAGLES!

NFL Football Extra offers live Flash Video streaming

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I just checked out the NFL’s new Sunday Night Football extra site. The Flash-based web-app includes interactive extras such as alternative camera angles, picture-in-picture technology, in-game highlights, live statistics, and interactivity. The video quality is okay, not great though, and I’m seeing a little bit of performance issues which is not surprising with 5 simultaneous streams. Their ad model is interesting… all the cameras switch off in commercial and a banner-ad pops-up that matched the video. This allows users to take action on what they see as they see it.

This trumps Silverlight’s coverage of the Olympics in most ways. Particularly with the in-game interaction and the fact you can actually hear the commentators, not to mention fullscreen support (Silverlight didn’t offer it, which was ridiculous). Doubt I’d actually watch it though… I use my Miglia TVMiniHD to watch to watch my games in HD on my Mac already, but I’d probably give it a shot if I was traveling.

Where are the killer mobile sports sites?

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Okay, on a break from the regular mobile, business, and other mumbo jumbo, it’s time to talk about one of my other passions, sports. Okay I did slip mobile in there but it’s tough to get off track sometimes.

Truth is, I haven’t seen much out there. Even ESPN’s mass market mobile offering via the web is pedestrian at best. So far the best network quality mobile experience I’ve seen for sports is on the Verizon LG Voyager. The pre-installed ESPN MVP application is great, the UI is fantastic and the video? Top notch thanks to 3G networks. But you have to be a Verizon customer with a specific Brew headset to benefit. I get it, that’s your differentiator as a business competitor to lure more customers in your direction. But what about a carrier independent rich mobile destination? If one of the networks (or anyone for that matter) can pull it off and push it through a mobile browser or widget-base thus avoiding all the licensing fees to carriers, it’ll change the game completely. Of course it’s just a matter of time until the technology allows for this but this could be a big opportunity for an independent to enter the game in a new channel. Just think of ESPN or CNN when cable was a fledgling business and look at them now.

And speaking of sports, I have to mention my Galway football club.This is my first year of retirement and it’s been tough to walk away. At times this summer, I’m fine with sitting it out with a cold Magners in my hand, screaming, shouting, being the club-man. But the Brett Farve part of me wants to get back out there and bust some heads. Of course I’m not getting any younger and I did have a pretty bad injury at the end of last year. To give you an idea of the roughness of gaelic football, the video below would sum it up as a typical game out in Canton.

On second thought, I’m still retired. 😉

Nokia and Qualcomm put down their dukes, walk away

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The fight between Nokia and Qualcomm ended before it started. The two sides said they have agreed to drop all legal complaints against each other in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. This effectively ended a costly legal fray for both sides, negatively affecting both parties current and long term business.

Who really wins here? Qualcomm’s stock price went through the roof today so you could argue that they did. But Nokia will benefit from the lower license cost (at half a billion mobile handsets per year, every cent counts) not to mention that carriers, U.S. ones in particular, can put this behind them in choosing which manufacturers to partner with.