The Top 10 Tech Trends Through 2020, From Five Top Venture Capitalists


From my Forbes blog:

Get ready for the Skynet economy, the death of the car, and the re-emergence of women in tech.

Those are three of the top 10 trends coming in technology in the next few years, according to several top venture capitalists. They made their predictions Thursday night at a local Silicon Valley institution, the 17th annual top 10 tech trends dinner held in San Jose by the Churchill Club, which hosts forums with tech’s top executives, financiers, entrepreneurs, and thinkers. The criteria for the trends are that they must not be obvious (a rule frequently broken) and will be big in five years (also often broken).

Offering their prognostications at the event were Bill Gurley of Benchmark Partners (recently described by rival VC Marc Andreessen as “my Newman” after Jerry Seinfeld’s enemy), fast-talking science geek Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, China-focused Jenny Lee of GGV Capital, early-stage investor Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Venture Fund, and former serial entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar of Sherpa Ventures. A few samples of what the VCs expect to see:

The virtual me: Lee thinks advances in hardware and sensors will create an explosion of data that will be aggregated into personal profiles that will know more about you than you do. Gurley says humans don’t want to be tracked that much, especially if the devices keep telling you what to do. Likewise, Jurvetson thinks these data-driven systems will be assistants more than taskmasters. And Pishevar suggests this data will work best if it’s made entertaining or gamified. Lee politely implies they’re all old.

The Skynet economy: Jurvetson sees universal broadband, via very low satellites, bringing untold amounts of talent into the global economy. Every part of the Earth would be equally covered with 16 GB a second Internet access by these now affordable satellites. This will profoundly change the lives of these people. Gurley is the main doubter, partly because he thinks it’s too big to invest in. Lynn waffles too, mostly because these people have bigger fish to fry, like, oh, keeping their babies alive. But Lee says wishing it comes true is part of making it come true.

Rise of the robocars: By 2020 we will no longer debate the inevitability of autonomous cars, Jurvetson predicts. They’re already safer than my parents and I trust them for my kids, he adds. There could be a 10 times reduction of vehicles, parking, etc. as well as a 10X reduction in traffic deaths.

The reemergence of women in tech: Half of computer science students will be women in five years, up from 10% now and a peak of 36% in 1984, argues Lynn. She blames the personal computer, which was targeted at males. Lots of pressure to change the situation. And more positive stories are being told, says Gurley. No one’s stupid enough to vote against this hot-button issue.

Overall winner with the highest percentage of audience votes: Rise of the robocars! So Jurvetson gets to wear the ceremonial wizard’s cape. Really, there’s a ceremonial red and blue wizard’s cape. “Do I have to wear it?” he asked. Yes, he did.

And then everyone drove off alone in their Teslas to buy stuff on their smartphone and pore over their binders full of women.

Read the rest of the 10 predictions.

13 Questions For 2013 In The World Of Online Advertising

questionsCross-posted at my blog The New Persuaders:

For the past few years, I’ve offered predictions here and on The New Persuaders for what’s likely to come in the next year. This year, I’m going to shake it up and throw out a few questions instead. I think I know the answers to some of them, but if many won’t be answered definitively by year-end, they remain top of mind for me and probably for many others in online media and advertising.

So in this, the first full week of the new year, here are some questions to which I hope to start finding answers:

* Will image advertising finally take off online? I have to believe that as people spend more and more time online instead of reading print publications and watching TV, brand marketers will want and need to reach them there with ads that are aimed at creating consideration for later purchases, not just eliciting an immediate sale like Google’s search ads and too many banner ads. We’re already starting to see signs of such advertising with the early success of Facebook’s Sponsored StoriesTwitter’s Promoted Tweets, and YouTube’s TrueView ads–not to mention the explosion of tablets, which provide a lean-back experience more compatible with image advertising. This won’t be a sudden change, since brand marketers and agencies don’t move quickly, but you can’t tell me there aren’t going to be increasingly compelling ways for brands to influence people online.

* Can advertisers and publishers make ads more personal without scaring people? That’s the $64 billion question, and it likely won’t get answered in full this year. It’s easy for headline-hungry politicians to make a big deal out of Facebook’s latest privacy gaffe or the Wall Street Journal’s or the New York Times’ latest scare story about an ad that followed somebody all over the Web. That’s especially so since Facebook really does push the privacy envelope too far at times, and too many advertisers idiotically chase one more sales conversion at the cost of scaring off hundreds of others or inviting onerous legislation. But making ads more useful to each individual person is not only crucial to online commerce, it’s potentially better for most consumers as well–seriously, I don’t need to see another ad for a fitness center or a new credit card, but that ad for Camper van Beethoven’s new CD had me in a split-second. The answer lies in these two words, everyone: transparency and choice.

* Will mobile advertising work? Well, some of it already does, to hear Google and Facebook tell it. And while those already devalued digital dimes so far turn to pennies when it comes to ads on smartphones and tablets, this still feels more like growing pains than a crisis in online advertising. Sure, the screens are small and people don’t like to be interrupted in their mobile cocoons. So a different kind of advertising is probably needed–clearly, banners don’t cut it on a four-inch screen. But the value to advertisers of knowing your location and maybe the apps you’re using, coupled with knowledge of what your friends like–all with permission, of course–is huge. That permission may be really tough to earn. But if advertisers can offer tangible value, perhaps in the form of useful services related to what you’re doing or looking for or shopping for–and isn’t that the ultimate native ad?–people may loosen their hold on that information.

I have a lot more questions, but I’ve got to stop before too much of 2013 is gone.

Check out more questions at the full post.

Why Do Programmers Hate Internet Advertising So Much?

Facebook ad question (Photo credit: renaissancechambara)

From my blog The New Persuaders:

Another week, another pontificating programmer slamming online advertising. What is it with these guys?

The latest example is a steaming heap of linkbait from software developer and entrepreneur Patrick Dobson entitled Facebook Should Fire Sheryl Sandberg. That would be the chief operating officer of Facebook, whose purported crime is that she steered Facebook toward being an ad-supported company.

In Dobson’s telling, while Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was off at an ashram in India, onetime Google ad exec Sandberg mandated that Facebook would henceforth be an advertising company. Proof of her folly? Facebook’s now worth half of what it was at its IPO three months ago as it “continues to flounder in advertising hell.”

This, despite the fact that Facebook will gross about $5 billion in ad revenues this year, despite the fact that its current market cap is still more than $40 billion less than eight years after the company’s founding in a Harvard dorm.

Thousands of Web developers would love to flounder this badly.

Dobson’s preferred alternative is that Facebook should gradually phase out advertising in favor of–and I have to get technical here, because the bigger picture he provides is fuzzy–selling access to its application programming interface. That way, developers can build businesses like Zynga did on top of the social network in the way personal computer software developers built applications atop Microsoft’s Windows. From his post:

… There is massive value in the social graph and the ability to build applications on top of it. I believe the value is greater than all of the advertising revenue generated on the web to date. … What is the best way to monetize the social graph? To sell access to the social graph! … Developers can then figure out if advertising, or micro transactions, or payed access is the best way to monetize the social graph.

I’m not really sure what “selling access to the social graph” would be, though it sounds like the result could make Facebook’s many privacy gaffes to date look tame.

But the bigger problem is the persistent implication by tech folks like Dobson that advertising is beneath them, and beneath any intelligent human being. Now, I’m no huge fan of most advertising, and all too often it is indeed lame. But there’s no doubt it can be useful at the right place and time, and even when it misses the mark, advertising is a small, remarkably frictionless price to pay for a whole lot of free Web services.

The notion that advertising is evil, to use a favorite term of Google critics, or at least useless is a longstanding meme in Silicon Valley. It goes at least as far back as Google’s founding, before it became–right–the biggest online ad company on the planet. Cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin famously wrote in their Stanford doctoral thesis describing Google that advertising could pollute search results.

Why this antipathy to advertising? A lot of tech folks seem to believe they’re immune to the influence of advertising. More than that, they assume that no one else is much influenced by it either (despite ample evidence over many decades that ads do influence people’s attitudes and behavior). Therefore, the reasoning goes, ads are nothing more than an annoyance, an inefficient allocation of capital. Dobson accuses Sandberg of a “rampant lack of business creativity” that has “no place in centers of innovation,” later saying she should start an ad agency in Miami. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

We Have Met the Evil and It Is Not Google or Apple: It Is Us

Cross-posted on my Forbes blog, The New Persuaders.

So much talk about evil these days. Google is evil for promoting results from its Google+ social network on search results pages, and even for changing its privacy policy to make clear its services share data. Apple is evil for not coming down hard enough on harsh working conditions at its Chinese suppliers’ factories.

Well, maybe. But if they’re going to be honest, the many pundits piling on to today’s titans of tech need to look up from the screen and into the mirror. Google’s and even Apple’s businesses, warts and all, don’t exist without our explicit participation. As Pogo famously said, albeit in a different context: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Now, I’m still not so sure Google’s actions on either score rise to the level of evil by any reasonable meaning of the term. (In fact, the furor over Search plus Your World  makes me think of Pogo creator Walt Kelly’s second most famous line: “Don’t take life so serious, son. It ain’t nohow permanent.”) But it sure looks like Google’s at least edging closer to the evil line than its hifalutin ideals ever seemed to suggest.

For its part, Apple has taken considerable effort improve the factories that produce the gleaming iPhones and iPads we love. But if today’s New York Times story is correct, it’s clearly culpable in its seeming ambivalence about coming down hard on its suppliers exploiting workers.

Fact is, though, these companies get away with things we don’t like only because we let them. As powerful as Apple and Google seem, they both answer to customers and users. That would be us. And unlike politicians, they must answer to us every day–if we insist they do.

But we can’t do that just by bitching about them on blogs. You want Google to back off on personalized search and data-sharing? Opt for the plain results (click the Hide Personal Search button up there on the right), sign out of your Google account, or even delete it entirely. Or try Bing, or DuckDuckGo. Easier than blogging about it! And if enough of you do it, rest assured that Google’s data crunchers will notice, and if they’re as smart as they like to think, they’ll figure out how to change things.

You want Apple to fix its factory conditions? Don’t buy that next iPhone or iPad, and tell Apple why. If enough of you just say no, Apple will notice, and maybe start to use some of those unbelievable profits to change things.

Everything else is just talk. And there’s been quite enough of that already.

Five Small Stories About Steve Jobs

Lots of people who were closer to Apple cofounder Steve Jobs than I have written moving memorials to a man who, in an industry and a region where people love to say they want to change the world, actually did it. The Apple II, the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad–and Pixar!–none of these would have happened, certainly not in the same culture-jolting way, were it not for Jobs’ imagination and determination.

Because I was busy enough watching Intel create the electronics revolution, chronicling Scott McNealy and Sun kicking Hewlett-Packard’s butt for awhile, and witnessing Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen birth the commercial Internet, I can’t share tales of watching the genesis of the particular revolutions Jobs sparked from a front-row seat. All I’ve got are a few small, even inconsequential tales of Steve Jobs from my brushes with him over the years. But I wanted to share them anyway in the hope that they add a little more color to the life of a man who brought so much to ours.

I met Jobs face-to-face for the first time just before he was to introduce, if I’m not mistaken, the NeXTcube computer in 1990. BusinessWeek writer Kathy Rebello and I visited Jobs to see the machine at NeXT’s offices in Redwood City, Calif. He was his usual charming self–and make no mistake, despite his well-deserved (and self-described) reputation as an asshole, he was very charming. And his enthusiasm was infectious even though I had doubts about whether he could widen NeXT’s wedge between Apple and Sun into a sustainable business.

I remember two things distinctly. One was his focus on the shape and design of the jet-black machine, which I recall him touching fondly. That love of good industrial design is something he clearly never lost.

The other thing I remember is that he nervously fingered the wedding ring on his finger. When I jokingly asked him if it perhaps it wasn’t fitting so well, he launched into a story about his grandfather, who was a machinist (if I remember correctly–though seeing that his adopted father Paul was a machinist, I wonder if I heard wrong). Anyway, he said his grandfather was operating a machine with his wedding ring on, and it got caught in the machinery, removing his finger along with it. So every time he felt the ring on his finger, it gave him a twinge.

Now, this was Jobs before his canonization as the savior of Apple, so perhaps it’s just an example of a CEO trying to make nice with reporters with a personal tale. Still, the story stuck with me precisely because it was such a human, uncorporate story to bother telling.

I also saw Jobs just a couple of times doing his famous product introductions. One was the introduction of the first NeXT machine at a huge gala event in San Francisco in October 1988, if I recall correctly, because BusinessWeek writer Katie Hafner needed help reporting on a NeXT story she was working on and I was the new guy getting sent to whatever needed doing. (She thought she was getting an exclusive, though Jobs apparently promised an “exclusive” to two other publications–vintage Steve Jobs.)

In demonstrating a built-in dictionary that could call up definitions with amazing speed, he said, “Hmm, what shall we look up? How about ‘mercurial’?” That was the most common descriptor of Jobs at the time, and his joke brought down the house. Like I said, he could be the most charming guy in the room when he wanted to conjur up his famous reality distortion field.

The next time I saw Jobs onstage was just three years ago in San Francisco at his introduction of the iPhone 3G at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, helping out my BusinessWeek colleagues and Apple aces Peter Burrows and Arik Hesseldahl. I hadn’t seen Jobs in person in many years, onstage or anywhere else. Of course I knew about his health issues, but as I liveblogged the event, it still struck me how frail he seemed:

Maybe it has been far too long since I’ve seen Jobs speak in person. But he seems a little laid-back, even tired?

As it turned out, this appearance kicked off another round of speculation on his health. Even without the benefit of hindsight today, it felt to me that, at the least, Jobs’ ability to carry Apple entirely on his shoulders was fading.

Update: Oh, how could I forget that photo shoot? For a special issue on Silicon Valley in 1997, BusinessWeek had somehow gathered many of the leading lights of the Valley at that time. I later wondered how on Earth we made that happen, but there’s Jobs on the left, dressed characteristically with more style than the rest put together.

I don’t remember much about Jobs’ behavior during the shoot beyond his huddling with his friend and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison at one point. And maybe that was the point: While there was no doubt he had to be in that photo, he wasn’t yet Steve Jobs, the icon, he was the guy who had just returned to Apple after it bought NeXT and faced a huge uphill battle to save it. Still, he was Steve Jobs; I remember his letting the magazine know that he was annoyed about the photo because his white shirt stuck out from under his vest.

One last story: My wife and I used to frequent a small restaurant in downtown Palo Alto called Caffe Verona. One evening around 1999, more or less, we were getting coffee, and suddenly I noticed that ahead of me was Ellison. That was interesting enough, but then I saw him take his drink out to the small patio entrance–where sat Steve Jobs and his wife.

Being a reporter, and because I think neither recognized me in the dark, I took a seat outside a few feet away, hoping to overhear any juicy details about coming products, Silicon Valley gossip–whatever. Long after my wife went back inside to get warm, I kept nursing my cappuccino and pretending to read magazines. So what did I overhear?

A half-hour of talk about the details of macrobiotic diets.

It was a mildly funny story to tell for years afterward. After Jobs’ health issues, it became less funny. But I always thought it was significant for another reason anyway. Here was one (actually, two) of technology’s leading lights, and they somehow found time to pal around talking about everything but their businesses.

Ultimately, what I remember about Steve Jobs was not the showman, the icon, the visionary. I remember a real human being who just happened to change the world.

Beyond the Wow Factor: Why LinkedIn’s IPO Matters

It would be easy to take today’s blockbuster initial public offering by business networking service LinkedIn as a sign that the IPO, the fuel for the tech industry’s wealth-creation engine, is back. But one IPO on the first day won’t tell us that. It’s just as easy to dismiss the rocket-ride to well over double its already-raised offering price as a sign of another bubble. Again, one great IPO’s first day doesn’t mean everybody will party like it’s 1999 (though if it’s “brain-dead” to suspect there’s more than a little froth in Internet investing, take me off life support now).

Still, there are many other lessons we should take away from LinkedIn’s IPO. Here are a few:

* Social networking has arrived as more than a cute phenomenon. LinkedIn may not be Facebook or even Twitter, but it’s serious networking, using people’s social connections to create real value. A lot of people already know this, but for the rest, it’s well past time to stop listening to the Luddites who think Facebook and Twitter are nothing but places to tell people what you ate for lunch.

* At the same time, it’s also apparent that social networking won’t be a winner-take-all business. Yes, a lot of businesses and even professionals use Facebook for business purposes, and will continue to do so. But many more people recognize the value in having separate circles of friends, colleagues, business contacts, and the like. Now, I’d bet that Facebook could be the biggest winner–winner-take-most, if you will. But Mark Zuckerberg clearly won’t own everything social.

* This is the first real sign of whether individual-investor interest in IPOs has returned. It was already apparent that the (literally) marquee names like Facebook, or even Zynga or Groupon, would rock the world when they go public. They’ve got fame, huge and fast-growing revenues, and soaring private valuations already, so using them as a proxy for whether smaller fry would go public was always erroneous. LinkedIn, by contrast, is a much smaller business that’s closer to those of dozens of private Internet companies that to date have been unable to provide their venture investors and entrepreneurial teams exits besides getting acquired. You can be sure that those private Internet companies are using LinkedIn to research potential chief financial officers and arranging meetings with Wall Street investment bankers, if they weren’t already.

* Those shady private-market valuations, which have given Facebook, for one, $65 billion-and-up valuations, suddenly don’t look so crazy after all following the first IPO of an actively traded private company on private exchanges such as Second Market and SharesPost. LinkedIn’s $2.4 billion valuation on those marketplaces, in fact, indicates to some that the supposedly savvy investors trading shares privately vastly underestimated the value of these companies. No doubt LinkedIn’s market cap will be volatile, so it’s unwise to think that Facebook suddenly will be worth multiples of its already breathtaking valuation. But it’s clear that the limited number of shares being traded on these exchanges, as well as the limited amount of information these investors had, didn’t necessarily cause them to overpay. At the same time, it’s unlikely the SEC will back off from scrutinizing whether to regulate them–in fact, it may move even more quickly if this IPO sparks renewed interest in the exchanges.

* LinkedIn’s success proves that Web companies aren’t entirely dependent on advertising for revenues, providing hope that other business models such as subscriptions and paid services are credible alternatives. LinkedIn makes most of its revenues not from advertising but from paid services for recruiters and premium subscriptions.

* Nice guys don’t always finish last. Talk to almost any entrepreneur about LinkedIn cofounder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman, and you’ll get nothing but admiration, and not just because he’s an angel investor in many dozens of their startups as well as a partner in the venture capital firm Greylock Partners. Hoffman seems generous with his time–not least, full disclosure, with me as a reporter since LinkedIn’s earliest days. I remember asking him once, years ago, about the libertarian, government-bashing leanings of some of his more famous colleagues from PayPal, and he sighed and recalled how, as the liberal in the bunch, he kept pushing them to give back to people less fortunate than they. Regardless of your politics, though, isn’t it nice to see that you can become a billionaire without being a jerk?

* For individual investors, the rule for Internet company stocks still should be caveat emptor. That $8 billion $9 billion valuation likely won’t stay that high in coming weeks or months, not consistently anyway, as the pent-up enthusiasm for Internet IPOs gets spent (at least until Groupon or Zynga or Facebook cranks it up again). For all the success of LinkedIn as a company and as a bellwether for Internet stock issues, it’s still a speculative play, and its share movement may well drive home yet another lesson: Individual investors should never put money they can’t afford to lose into anything their dentist is investing in, their cabbie mentions, or the press is hyperventilating about.