Pingpad: A New Social Network For Getting Things Done

Pingpad CEO and cofounder Ross Mayfield

Pingpad CEO and cofounder Ross Mayfield

From my Forbes blog:

There’s no lack of apps to communicate and collaborate with friends, family and colleagues. You use messaging apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to ping friends, and maybe team collaboration darling Slack at work. You’ve got document sharing apps and services such as Google Docs, Quip or Microsoft Office Mobile, Dropbox for storing files, maybe Evernote for quick notes, and oh-so-many calendars for your job, your family, and your kids’ soccer teams. And of course there’s still email.

Whew. And therein lies the problem, says Ross Mayfield. The 44-year-old serial entrepreneur knows collaborative software, having co-founded Socialtext in 2002 to commercialize the seminal group-edited Web pages called wikis. Now, he believes that precisely because of the explosion of communications, collaboration, and productivity apps since then, there’s a need for a much more simple way to bring them all together. When Mayfield and his future wife were planning their wedding, for instance, he needed to use a wide array of apps and Web services to keep track of catering and location options, as well as arrange activities such as a wishing tree that required help from friends. The scattered nature of all those tools made it difficult for multiple people to use, especially on the go.

Today, Mayfield’s year-old startup, Pingpad, is launching a free app on Apple’s and Google’s app stores and a connected service on the Web that aims to elevate messaging into a way for people to get things done–and not just at work. Unlike at Socialtext and largely unlike most collaboration services all the way from Lotus Notes to Yammer to Slack, the nine-person company isn’t chiefly aimed at businesses. “We had a lot of innovation around collaboration in the 2000s,” he said in an interview in the makeshift upstairs office at his newly rented house near downtown Palo Alto. “But very little of it reached consumers.” …

Already, messaging has started to become something of an atomic unit of many kinds of apps. Even non-messaging apps such as Uber, Instagram, Meerkat, Facebook, and Twitter are appealing in part because they have short messages at their core to make their services quick and easy to use. That has some experts comparing the impact of messaging to that of operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows that serve as platforms for many applications. “We see messaging as the new OS–all sorts of activity will happen inside of it,” says Marc Canter, co-founder of Cola, a messaging startup not quite ready to announce its service. …

Read the rest of the story.

The One Killer Feature Apple TV Needs Is Still Missing


From my Forbes blog:

As the new Apple TV video streamer debuts today, it is still missing the one key feature it needs to become a must-have device: TV programs and movies all its own.

The new version of Apple’s not-quite-a-hobby-anymore looks to be a major improvement over the existing hockey puck. It has a new remote control with a touchpad that will make Apple TV good for gaming, as well as voice control using Siri and an app store so other developers of games, video apps, and more can offer additional reasons to buy the device.

But most important, according to various reports, one most recently in Variety, Apple is currently exploring anew how it might boost Apple TV’s prospects by entering the growing fray in original video programming. Earlier, there were persistent reports that Apple would offer a Internet-based bundle of existing TV programming. But it’s believed that rights issues and a reluctance by programmers and networks to endanger their cash cows have stalled that service. “Original programming is the only solution to Apple’s biggest problem in the video world–that is, that nobody wants to sell Apple content rights,” says Forrester analyst James McQuivey.

Either way, it’s clear that Apple has designs on its own bundle of programming, especially programming no one else has, to drive more interest in all its devices. And now Apple TV may loom more important in that effort than it has so far. A stronger Apple move into television and online video is long overdue, but instead of the television set many people had expected for years, it appears that for now Apple TV is the horse the company plans to continue riding.

The challenge for Apple is that its rivals have galloped ahead of Apple TV, which hasn’t changed much in three years. … Given Apple TV’s solid but unspectacular base, original programming would offer the last piece that help recharge it into the home hub that Apple appears to want it to become. …

Read the complete post.

Billions Of Online Ads Are About To Die A Well-Deserved Death

From my Forbes blog:

Businesses that run annoying ads on your smartphone and laptop are about to get a rude awakening.

Not only are online ad blockers quickly gaining in popularity, now two very big companies will soon offer us new ways to avoid in-your-face video and animated ads, pop-ups, and other intrusive ads that plague our online existence.

Today, Sept. 1, Google will start blocking ads that use Adobe’s Flash software, employed widely by video advertisers, in its Chrome browser. And as early as next week, Apple is expected to release its new mobile operating software for iPhones and iPads that will allow the installation of apps that keep ads from appearing in its Safari Web browser.

These developments suggest a new era in which you’ll finally be able to zap annoying ads like those in the video above. For a variety of reasons, it’s unlikely that ad blocking alone will cause advertisers and publishers a big problem. But the fact that the two biggest forces in mobile phones are both cracking down on annoying ads means the online ad business is about to change in a big way. …

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Behind The Would-Be Siri Killer Facebook M, A Battle Over AI’s Future

Facebook M

Facebook M

From my Forbes blog:

Facebook’s test release today of a digital assistant inside its Messenger app is a shot across the bow of the Internet’s biggest companies: Apple, Google, Microsoft, and It’s also the latest salvo in a high-stakes battle over the ways artificial intelligence should transform the way we live and work.

Facebook M is intended to allow users of Facebook Messenger to pose any query or service request in natural language and get a personalized answer immediately. The key wrinkle that sets it apart from Apple’s Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana is that there’s a team of human “trainers” who will step in when the machines aren’t quite up to the challenge.

So far, it’s only available to a few hundred people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and its timing and scope are unclear. But judging from a brief post by VP of Messaging Products David Marcus, Facebook M is clearly a major bid in a quickening battle to be the virtual assistant of choice, taking on not only Siri, Google Now, and Cortana, but also a raft of upstarts such as Luka, Magic, and Operator.

And in the mobile age, virtual assistants could prove to be the key product that will define which companies dominate the next decade of online services, just as search was for the past decade. “Whoever creates the intelligent assistant will be the first place people go to find things, buy things, and everything else,” former AI researcher Tim Tuttle, CEO of the voice interface firm Expect Labs, said last week.

But what’s even more interesting in the bigger picture is how Facebook M plays into a longstanding, fundamental battle over how artificial intelligence should be employed–one that has recently come into sharper focus. … The upshot: Until and unless AI gets so good that machines can anticipate what we want, people will remain a key component of truly intelligent online services.

Read the entire post.

Why Are You Still Typing On Your Phone – Or Any Other Device?

From my Forbes post:

Only a few years ago, you thought that guy walking down the street apparently talking to himself was off his meds. Now, you’re rocking your Bluetooth headset every day without even thinking about it (even if you still annoy some of us on the train).

But that’s talking with other people, for pete’s sake–are you still phoning with your phone in 2015? Today, you can ask it to do almost anything just by speaking “OK Google” or “Hey Siri”: conduct a search, make a restaurant reservation, send a text, or do almost anything you used to have to type into a search box or tap into an app.

You probably already knew you could try doing all that, but here’s what you may not know: Most of it doesn’t suck anymore. If you haven’t tried Google Voice Search, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, or even’s Echo “smart” speaker recently, you may be surprised how much better they’re working than even six months ago. Not only do they seem to understand words better, even in noisy situations, they also appear to produce more accurate results in many cases.

All that’s thanks to big improvements in machine learning, in particular a branch of artificial intelligence called deep learning, that’s been applied to speech recognition in the last couple of years. “Recent AI breakthroughs have cracked the code on voice, which is approaching 90% as good as human accuracy,” says Tim Tuttle, CEO of Expect Labs, which began offering its MindMeld cloud-based service last year to help any device or app create voice interfaces.

It’s great for us smartphone owners, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for companies. …

Read the full story.

Here Comes Wall-E For The Warehouse: A Conversation With Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise

Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise

Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise

From my Forbes blog:

The little robot follows Melonee Wise around a makeshift warehouse as she picks up boxes of cereal and packages of soap and drops them into a crate atop the machine. Freight, as Wise’s startup Fetch Robotics calls it, may be a machine, but its careful tracking of her movements recalls nothing so much as a dutiful dog.

The robot, which Wise demonstrated in a mock warehouse in a corner of the company’s San Jose headquarters, is one of two wheeled models introduced by Fetch in April as a way to automate warehouses and manufacturing buildings. While Freight is intended as an aid to human workers, the namesake Fetch has a single arm that can pick items off a shelf and drop them onto Freight, potentially replacing people.

Wise’s company is one of several robotics companies betting that robots, which have slowly found homes in auto plants and retail warehouses, are finally ready to roll out in much larger numbers. The CEO says in an interview I conducted for a recent profile of the young roboticist and entrepreneur that smaller and faster computers, improvements in artificial intelligence, and cheaper sensors are all combining to make robots cheaper (in Fetch’s case, tens of thousands of dollars) and more capable.

Fetch is one of the most closely watched robotics startups thanks largely to Wise, a key contributor at the seminal robotics incubator Willow Garage, where she helped design and build several models, and a team of robotics veterans she has assembled. Fetch, which in June raised a $20 million round of funding from Softbank and previous investors Shasta Ventures and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, has sold a few robots to pilot commercial customers. But Wise has bigger ambitions to create a platform on which software developers can create new applications. “They have a chance to create the backbone of autonomous robots,” says Shasta Ventures Managing Director Rob Coneybeer.

The blunt-speaking Wise, whose voice suggests a mellower version of the comedian Paula Poundstone, talked about how she got into robotics, what she hopes to accomplish at Fetch, how she aims to compete against Google and other companies snapping up robotics companies and talent, and the challenges of fulfilling her dream of a robot in every home. Following is an edited version of our conversation:

Q: How did you decide to focus on that particular area, given that you’ve been trying all along to build for pretty broad application, even in the home?

A: At Willow, we spent two years trying to figure out what the next thing in robotics would be. The first year we tried to understand if there was any play in the home. The answer was a resounding no.

Q: Why?

A: The expectations are too high and the price tolerance is way too low. So people would love to have a robot that would do their dishes or tidy their house, but they want all of that for $500 or less. Even when you challenge that notion by saying, well, you know the Roomba you bought last month was $850, they’re like, oh no, I bought that on sale.

There was this big hype about at-home telepresence. Everyone wants to put telepresence inside someone else’s home, like their mother’s, but no one actually wants it in their home. They don’t like the privacy challenges.

Q: What’s attractive about logistics and manufacturing?

A: We strongly felt that logistics and materials handling and manufacturing was very scalable. There’s a strong need for it. One of the things that sold me on it is there’s a 600,000-person job gap right now for logistics and manufacturing. They just don’t have enough people right now. Turnover is really bad. They also want to increase performance, and people have a rate limit. They get injured. There’s shrinkage. When you pile all these things up, there’s a great case for robots. …

Read the complete interview.