My researchers keep track of useful Web sites. As Bing and Google shift from “search” to other information interests, having a library card catalog of Web information resources becomes more important. I want to highlight five “search” services that may be useful to a person conducting business intelligence or basic research.
Innovation is a word tightly knit into the language of success. Tech sites run highly anticipated round-ups of the year’s most innovative businesses, companies like Google have established elaborate processes to foster new thinking, and Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and other tech leaders are idolized, written into history as thought leaders and visionaries.
But how is innovation achieved? Amidst the hype, the process of innovation remains stubbornly fuzzy. Industry behemoths long associated with innovation are second-guessing old norms. Google recently eliminated its “20% rule” famous for giving employees 20 percent of their workweeks to devote to creativity. Twitter co-founder Evan Williams went a step further when he recently questioned the concept of innovation itself, implying that the Internet does not have limitless possibilities. At the same time, tech startups are popping up all over the globe. They are challenging traditional modes of thinking, but as the market grows more and more crowded, the process for making a lasting impact can feel strikingly unclear.
Pioneering a tech startup since 2009 has led us to believe that smart innovation—innovation driven not just by ideas, but by real solutions—is the key to success in today’s tech landscape. As Steve Jobs once famously remarked, “Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” What smart innovation involves is deciding which 1,000 ideas to shed and which few to nurture. As we quickly approach our company’s fifth anniversary, we took a moment to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned and wanted to share these three in particular:
1. Listen for the Rumbling:
The vast majority of innovative startups address a tangible market need. In Portland, Oregon at the XOXO Conference in September, Evan Williams touched on the concept of convenience as a commodity. It’s a simple truth – make people’s lives easier and your solution is bound to find success. Uber was an instant hit because the app took cab-hailing mobile, putting power into consumer’s fingertips. The app catered to society’s newfound appreciation for the ease of mobile transactions. Similarly, Square grew popular because it solved the cash-only problem for small businesses and consumers alike, offering seconds-quick mobile credit card transactions.
One entrepreneurial trap is building a product without thoroughly sousing out market need. You can spend years fine-tuning what you think will be a sensation, but if you’ve lost touch with consumer demand during the process, need for your product could be less than anticipated.
So how can you avoid this fate? We found it helpful to imagine ourselves as sponges during the early stages of problem solving. Our team jumped at opportunities to meet with potential clients, setting up meetings with experts who could give us feedback on budding ideas. We walked them through decks featuring our product plans and outlined our ideas, realizing that the questions they asked would reveal where to focus our attention—and how to avoid hidden pitfalls.
2. Assess Your Assets:
Steve Case, former CEO of AOL, recently said that the primary battle in today’s hyper-competitive tech world is breaking through the clutter. Multiple companies are vying to solve similar problems. Those that leverage their unique assets to gain a competitive advantage stand out.
Take Nike as an example. Fast Company rated it the world’s #1 most innovative company this year, and its new Fuelband product has attracted a lot of attention. In Fast Company’s interview with Nike executives, they spoke at length about leveraging their assets to build Fuelband: they modeled the product on carefully measured data from previous releases, galvanized their pre-formed creative team to pore over Fuelband’s design, and used their company culture of “top-secret information” to create internal buzz about the product. Nike took stock of the tools it had – design experience, creative expertise, and company culture—to maximize its natural advantage.
The same applies to startups. When we built our latest mediation product, we had an established client base already using our previous mobile monetization solutions. We knew that these relationships would give our next release a competitive boost. By activating our external network of developer clients, we not only received great advice for building new services, but also ensured that there would be clients awaiting our product at the other end.
3. Embrace Feedback
Dennis Crowley, co-founder of FourSquare, noticed something strange in March 2011: users had stopped checking in with FourSquare. Instead, they were using the app to search for and discover local recommendations. He and his co-founders hadn’t anticipated the shift, but realized that they had to listen and respond to their users.
They channeled these insights back into the product, reversing FourSquare’s mission. Rather than pushing a “check in first, search second,” mantra, they emphasized local searches as the app’s main feature and encouraged check-ins as a secondary activity. When FourSquare released the next version of its app with these changes reflected, usage doubled.
FourSquare’s anecdote highlights a common practice among smart innovators: monitoring user behavior and continually reiterating products based on feedback. The feedback loop is so valuable that powerhouses like Bally Technologies, a casino gaming company awarded, hosts regular consumer panels to hear their customers’ voices.
For us, continuing the conversation with our clients involves debuting new products with a soft launch three months prior to the actual release date. We give a number of our clients early access to test-builds of products, sometimes going so far as to run test integrations of alpha versions on clients’ platforms. Developers on both ends chat over Skype to exchange ideas, quality improvements, and suggestions on how we could more accurately describe the functionalities of our product. These sessions strengthen partnerships and help propel our products forward after release.
While our experience has shown that innovation is filled with uncertainties, one fact we know is certain: the tech landscape is ever changing, and innovation is its expansive force. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but feel fortunate to have learned these lessons through the years—and can only hope that each new lesson makes the fuzzy front of innovation a little clearer.
Have you ever wondered where we get our energy in the United States and how we use it?
Or how large an impact coal makes compared to wind power and solar energy? Or whether cars and trucks use more energy than homes? Researchers at Lawrence Livermore Labs have been collecting data from the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration for years and making detailed “flow diagrams” that answer all those questions.
Here’s the most recent example, showing energy use in the US for 2012 (click for a larger image):
For comparison, here is a link to the flow diagram for 2002.
Take a moment to absorb the graphic — it contains a lot of information. The sources of energy are on the left, the major consumption sectors (Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Transportation) towards the right, and there’s a stop-off point between the two, where raw energy sources are converted to electricity. The relative thickness of each connecting line shows how much energy travels along each path.
[Sidebar: About Quads: all of the numbers on the graphic are in quadrillion BTUs, or “Quads,” where 1 Quad equals 1,000,000,000,000,000 BTUs. One BTU is a unit of energy approximately equal to what you get by burning one match. Burning six teaspoons of gasoline generates about 1000 BTUs. But, in this post, we’re more interested in the relative amounts of energy used — the percentages — and less interested in the absolute BTUs.]
There are a few things that stand out in this graphic.
Oil is primarily used to make gasoline. Coal is primarily used to generate electricity. This should be no surprise to anyone who has studied energy use, but it is useful to keep that in mind. If your goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, more efficient use of gasoline and electricity is a good place to start.
Coal usage is decreasing but is still the dominant source of fuel for generating electricity. Over 40% of all electricity produced in the US starts with coal. Ten years ago, coal produced 52% of all electricity in the United States, but this percentage has been decreasing as natural gas and renewable sources increase.
A lot of energy is lost in the generation and distribution of electricity. Our electrical system is only 33% efficient: it takes three units of raw energy (coal, nuclear, gas, etc.) to generate and deliver one unit of electricity to your home. Stated another way, if you cut your own consumption by one BTU, some generation plant somewhere will consume three fewer BTUs.
Internal Combustion cars and trucks are only 20% efficient. For every five gallons of gasoline you burn, on average, only one gallon does useful “work” (in the terms a physicist would use). The other four gallons turn into wasted heat. (Note: I know this isn’t a particularly useful way to measure efficiency for cars and trucks — we’ll visit “well to wheel” efficiency figures in a subsequent post.)
What else can we learn from the flow diagram? The flow diagram offers many starting points for exploration and discussion. For example:
Electric generation benefits from a diversity of raw energy sources. Ten years ago, geothermal, wind, and solar sources were lumped in with “biomass & other,” accounting for just 2.3% of the energy sources we use for electricity. Today, those sources account for 5.2% of electrical generation. While this is still small compared to the total feedstock used for electricity, the fact that there is a diversity of sources increases the opportunity for innovation. Both wind and solar continue to get cheaper, so one of those technologies will attain grid parity at some point.
Internal combustion cars are locked into a single source of energy: petroleum. I admit to being an aficionado of electric car technology, but looking at the flow diagram makes it abundantly clear that the cost of running an internal combustion vehicle is directly tied to the cost of petroleum. (More accurately, operating costs are tied to the cost of gasoline, which may or may not track the cost of crude oil).
Small changes in end-user consumption have large effects on raw energy use. Because the generation of electricity through thermal means is inherently inefficient, reducing the electricity consumption in your home by one kW-h has the effect of saving three kW-h at the generation plant. Similarly, every gallon of gas that you don’t burn in your car effectively frees up five gallons that can be more efficiently used in industrial and commercial applications. Yes, you can make a difference.
We’ve only scratched the surface of a much longer discussion. But I want to hear from you: did anything surprise you about the flow diagram? What else would you like to know that it doesn’t tell you?
Virtualization has been with us since the mainframe days, when a single system could be sliced into separate virtual machines, each allowed to run their own instances of applications, or even different operating systems.
But when one looks at how virtualization is being deployed today , are businesses really getting the bang for the buck that the technology promised? Probably not, but it is not their fault. The typical issue that companies face is that in virtualizing their servers, they address only two of the three major subsystems (compute and storage), leaving I/O mired back in the past.
The push for virtualization in x86 servers came about because of cost, management, floor space and power concerns. By implementing virtualization, a business can reduce its acquisition and operation costs. The business can also increase its velocity in order to take advantage of trends more adeptly.
With virtualization, one partitions a single server, carving compute (CPU and memory) into separate virtual machines. This allows multiple virtual servers to share the same physical host with tools like VMware or Microsoft’s Hyper-V. Storage has been virtualized for years via external shared storage on Storage Area Networks (SANs) or Network Attached Storage (NAS.)
But that final frontier, the I/O, remains tied to the physical server chassis. Worst of all, I/O tends to be the virtualization bottleneck. And it is the biggest cause of management headaches as administrators spend too much time provisioning, deploying, and managing the I/O resources.
Addressing the compute and storage of a server but ignoring the I/O is like putting a new engine in a car and then trying to race it with old, balding tires. A server needs balance in its subsystems to keep bottlenecks from occurring .
I/O virtualization is less common in the market, but it is rapidly proving to be an important element as more companies are finding that I/O has become the bottleneck for their servers. I/O virtualization removes the standard I/O controllers (network and storage) and places them at the top of the rack in an intelligent appliance. This appliance allows all of the servers to share and pool their devices. When businesses move the I/O to the top of the rack and use the I/O to tie their servers to the end of row switching, they can get rid of expensive Ethernet and Fibre Channel switches.
By virtualizing the I/O in a top-rack pool, administrators can quickly provision and deploy resources to servers from a remote console without ever having to touch the rack. Businesses are no longer held back; they can take advantage of changes in the market rapidly, using new products and services faster than ever before as IT becomes a catalyst for change instead of a roadblock of it.
Utilizing I/O virtualization has another huge benefit for businesses: smaller servers. But not less powerful servers, just smaller servers. Without having to host all of those I/O devices inside each server, a company can use smaller form factor servers. We find that most customers who used the NextIO vNET I/O Maestro also used 2U and 4U servers in the past and now deploy with 1U servers. Smaller servers consume less energy than their larger counterparts and require less AC cooling. Because they consume less space in the rack, they also help businesses consolidate their IT infrastructure. Best of all, smaller servers are almost always lower in cost, allowing a company to either reign in their acquisition costs or buy more compute power for the same amount of budget.
Through I/O virtualization, a single cable (or pair of cables if running redundant connections) will be all that is needed to communicate between the server and the I/O virtualization appliance at the top of the rack. By reducing the cabling (up to 80% in some cases), a company can reduce the cost, complexity, and management of all of those cables. And with fewer cables behind the servers, there is better airflow, which will also lower cooling costs.
Through I/O virtualization a company can bring a balanced solution to their virtualized data center that:
- Removes the bottlenecks typically associated with virtualization
- Reduces the cost to deploy and manage servers
- Gives the business better agility, allowing them to react more quickly to changes in the business environment
- Minimizes cabling, allowing for lower cost, better airflow and easier provisioning – all without having to touch the rack
Clearly, with compute and storage virtualization rolling out across production servers, businesses should be looking to I/O virtualization to provide the final missing piece of a more efficient data center.
Editor’s note: CitizenTekk publishes experts and startups. We asked Badoo to write for us because they currently have over 170 million users in over 180 countries on their social networking website – which is more than Instagram.
The Internet is present in all parts of our life – even when it comes to love and romance. In what way is online dating changing our society? Can an algorithm really predict love at first sight? And can technology improve our relationships in real life?
People don’t like being told what to do. Whether it’s being told how to behave at certain society events, or sneakily eating a cake when you’re supposed to be dieting, there’s a natural human inclination to buck all of the “good advice” that people offer you, and instead find your own (sometimes complicated) path to a well-lived and more interesting life. And it’s the same when it comes to romance and dating.
In my opinion, traditional online dating sites are far too prescriptive when it comes to finding love. And that goes against the grain of what falling in love should be all about. Where’s the romance? The spontaneity? The fun? But you can’t blame those dating sites for trying. After all, they benefit from turning dating into a serious business, taking your hard-earned money month after month. And, let’s be honest here. They are banking on your failure to meet “the one” in order to protect their monthly recurring revenue from you. So why would you trust their advice or matches at all?
On that note, when was the last time you asked someone to fill out a seven-page questionnaire when you bump into them at a bar? That’s probably the quickest way to kill romance, not cultivate it. And it’s the very imperfections and unexpected quirks that make falling in love so wonderfully human. Finding someone who might be three inches shorter than your preferred height, but with whom you have insanely good chemistry? Even the most complex of algorithms can’t match that feeling.
However, that’s not to say that the Internet can’t play a crucial role in helping people meet and date. We’re all living busier lives and are increasingly reliant on technology, so using tools and apps to help us makes sense. And we’re getting lonelier too, as long working hours, increased geographic dispersal and more time being spent online, are all contributing to us having fewer real life friends than we used to. A recent Cornell study points to this, surmising that many of us now have just two close friends in real life, even as the number of online “friends” we have is on the increase.
On that note, when was the last time you asked someone to fill out a seven-page questionnaire when you bump into them at a bar? That’s probably the quickest way to kill romance, not cultivate it.
But most online dating sites don’t really reflect real life. And that’s a problem. In real life, people meet spontaneously. They might strike up a conversation with you in a coffee bar, based purely on the unusual blend of coffee beans you happen to be drinking that day. They might decide on a whim to check out a new local bar, and end up meeting the love of their life that night. Or, they might not meet that special someone, but end up making fast friends with the bartender, based on their mutual appreciation of the music of Johnny Cash and specialty Belgian beers. You get the picture.
Technology should reflect real life when it comes to helping you find love. The best dating sites and mobile apps are the ones that don’t tell you what to do or how to behave. They simply make it easy, fun and fast to connect with new people in your area. Just like being at a local bar, coffee shop or nightclub. No pressure, no expectations. Say “hi”, break the ice, and see what happens. Isn’t that the way most of us prefer to cultivate new relationships? And importantly, this new breed of apps provide a seamless bridge to offline meetings, so you can quickly gauge whether your online chemistry is matched in real life. With many millions of social interactions to date, these apps also make it easy to meet people nearby, often with clever location-based technology that simply enhances the ease with which you can meet new people in your area. We’re spending more and more time on our mobile phones now, so location and proximity tools are increasingly important for meeting people on the fly.
Online/mobile dating is definitely here to stay, but the smart companies are the ones that respect the way we prefer to interact with others in real life, and seek to enhance it, not control it.
The best technologies and apps should simply make it easier and more fun to meet new people, and then let us humans do the rest. They should open the door to possibility and wave you inside.”
Louise Thompson, Director of PR at Badoo, a leading social network and dating site.