Archive for September, 2013

The future of biometric data tracking isn’t about devices, it’s about experiences

Everywhere you look these days, there seems to be yet another sensor-enabled device or mobile app that wants to monitor everything from your heart rate andposture to your brain waves and breathing patterns.

Dr. Leslie Saxon is the founder and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing and the chief of cardiology at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

Dr. Leslie Saxon is the founder and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing and the chief of cardiology at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

But mainstream adoption of technology that helps people better understand their bodies won’t just happen because of more sophisticated sensors or engineers who are smarter about manipulating data. According to Dr. Leslie Saxon, head of the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing, biometric data tracking will have its “iPod moment” and spread to the masses when it’s packaged with experiences that improve the way we receive healthcare, communicate with friends and even enjoy movies and music.

“Everybody, right now, is so focused on the sensor and the engineering and nobody’s really focused enough, in my view, on the experience,” she said. “That’s going to make the products that hit the home-runs, that scale to millions and millions of people.”

Sensor-enabled products in your kitchen, living room, garage

So far, various forms of biometric data technology have made their biggest inroads among elite athletes, chronic disease patients and tech-savvy fitness enthusiasts. For example, wearable ECG and Bluetooth sensors help NFL teams gauge players’ reaction times, recovery speeds and physical preparedness. FDA-backed wrist monitors are beginning to help doctors track patients’ blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs no matter where they might be. And consumer devices like Fitbits (see disclosure), Nike Fuelbands and Jawbone’s UP are motivating people to pay more attention to their activity level and weight.

But Saxon, who will be speaking at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in October, believes that, in the future, biometric sensors will be embedded into everything from our earbuds to our cars to our refrigerators. And that ubiquity won’t just lead to a more accurate and complete health record, it will add a new dimension to all kinds of day-to-day interactions, she said.

“Once you start to understand your biometrics and understand that they enrich your daily life in some way… you’ll start to expect that the experience gets richer and richer the more data you have,” she said.

Biometric data meets Instagram?

For example, at USC’s Body Computing conference next month, Saxon plans to debut a new app that combines biometric data with photo-sharing.  The idea, she said, is to take an already popular and authentic way of communicating and enhance it with information that “shows how you’re feeling in a different way.”

To those outside the so-called “quantified self” world, appending your heart rate to an Instagram might sound kind of, well, strange. But, in a sense, it’s showing, rather than telling, that a particular moment made your heart race or helped you calm down. And it’s worth remembering that people are already starting to share other kinds of body-centric data, like distances run, calories burnedBioBeats - pulse and food consumed, on social networks.

Another kind of experience that is beginning to get a biometric boost is entertainment. This week on GigaOM’s Internet of Things podcast, my colleague Stacey Higginbotham interviewed an artist who combines biometric data with musical performance. And a startup called BioBeats aims to develop apps and content that use biometric data to shape a media experience. Its experimental smartphone app, Pulse, generates music based on the activity of your heartbeat and future plans include movies and music that adapt to your mood, as well as clinical tools that gauge a patient’s stress level and then deliver appropriate sounds and messages.

At USC, Saxon is also working on technology that literally puts biometric tracking technology into the driver’s seat. With BMW, they’re developing sensor-embedded steering wheels that could check a driver’s heart rate, blood sugar and other vital signs as soon as they turn the car on. Other researchers and car makers, includingNissan and Ford, are  using biometric data to detect drowsy or drunk drivers.

For Saxon, cars are a key area of focus because of the amount of time people spend in them, but also because automobile technology already does for cars what digital health hopes it can do for people: it provides ongoing performance metrics, warning signs about problems and clues for how to fix them.

“To me, the car is the gold standard of what I’d like this to become,” she said.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

Valve and Sony both tease buzzy new consoles

The gaming community is buzzing about two big up-and-coming consoles, Valve’s Steam Box and Sony’s PlayStation Vita TV. Executives from both companies have slipped crucial information in very different ways — and are definitely teasing for a late-year or 2014 U.S. debut.

Sony unveiled its new budget micro-console, the PlayStation Vita TV, to an excited and welcoming crowd earlier this month. However, Sony indicated that the console — which can support PlayStation Vita games as well as cloud titles, PS4 broadcasts and streaming media — would be only sold in Japan. After some intense enthusiasm from the gaming community today at the Tokyo Game Conference, an executive from Sony told Engadget that the company is now mulling over a reversal of this decision and considering distribution to the U.S. and Europe.

“If we have to add further services or not. It’s not that we have decided, but cloud gaming services, how can we work on that? So we are looking at each of the possible items before launching in Europe or the United States,” SVP and Division President of Business Division 1 at Sony Computer Entertainment Masayasu Ito said.

It’s unlikely that the console will hit shelves before the holidays, as Sony has made it clear that the company was not prepared for the favorable reaction from Western countries. But with the Gaikai cloud service on the way, it’s not too much of a stretch to expect a PS Vita TV launch in 2014.

Meanwhile, independent development company Valve has finally made good on a sly promise from co-founder Gabe Newell regarding its PC/console hybrid venture, the Steam Box. Newell hinted at exciting news scheduled for next week while delivering a keynote speech at LinuxCon, and the company has launched a new website that backs up those statements. According to a countdown timer on the website, the company will make the first of three separate announcements regarding the Steam Box on Monday. According to the website, Steam users will also have a say in the matter:

“Last year, we shipped a software feature called Big Picture, a user-interface tailored for televisions and gamepads. This year we’ve been working on even more ways to connect the dots for customers who want Steam in the living-room. Soon, we’ll be adding you to our design process, so that you can help us shape the future of Steam.”
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Both of these companies are hopping on really intriguing hardware trends — The PS Vita TV has gamers’ tongues wagging over its (relatively) cheap price tag of $200, while the Steam Box is a huge effort to bring PC gaming to the living room. Each of them have an opportunity to corner big trends and win the hearts of gamers who are looking for something new and different.

The conservation of drama

Everyone has a set point, a need/tolerance for a certain amount of drama in a life. I’m not talking about important work, I’m highlighting the excitment and tension that surrounds the things that happen to us (or might happen).

The newspaper is always just about the same length, regardless of what’s happening in the world.

Politicians seem to have the capacity to deal with a given amount of tough stuff. When the urgent wanes, they make up something new. When there’s too much, they decrease their perception of its urgency.

Last example: a restaurant kitchen has a very narrow range indeed. The amount of terror or urgency in a particular kitchen doesn’t actually vary that much between a reasonably slow night and one where there are two or three VIPs out front or if its a banquet for a thousand people. We adapt and adjust and most of all, we shift our perception of precisely how important that particular emergency actually is.

It’s easy to persuade yourself that this time it’s different, that this time the drama is real, and that, in fact, it’s all (truly) going to fall apart. In fact, though, it’s all imagined. Drama isn’t the work, it’s our take on the work. Drama doesn’t have to exist, certainly not in the way we’re living it, not right now. A few days or weeks or years from now, this work will be so commonplace to you, you won’t blink.

If drama was an actual external force, how could emergency room doctors, dictators and short order cooks ever survive? They’re dealing with so much incoming, they’d melt.

If the drama is helping you and your organization do your work and enjoy it, then by all means, have fun. But understand that drama is a choice.

The truth about the war for talent

It’s more of a skirmish, actually.

Plenty of recruiters and those in HR like to talk about engaging in a war for talent, but to be truthful, most of it is about finding good enough people at an acceptable rate of pay. Filling slots.

More relevant and urgent, though, is that it’s not really a search for talent. It’s a search forattitude.

There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. Perhaps in the first violinist in a string quartet. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude.

And yes, we ought to be having a war for attitude.

An organization filled with honest, motivated, connected, eager, learning, experimenting, ethical and driven people will always defeat the one that merely has talent. Every time.

The best news is that attitude is a choice, and it’s available to all. You can probably win the war for attitude with the people you’ve already got. And if you’re looking for a gig, you’ll discover that honing and sharing your attitude goes a lot farther than practicing the violin all day.

The failure of the second ask

Asking the first time might be brave. Asking again (more forcefully) after you get a no is selfish and dumb.

I think it’s the artlessness of it that so offends me.

Someone pitches an idea, tries to make a sale, invites a prospect to participate… and the prospect takes the time to politely decline.

The response of the pushy amateur? Either to deny that the objection is true (or important) or to merely repeat the offer, this time with more volume or urgency.

“I can’t afford it.”

“Yes you can!”

“It’s too far for me to travel.”

“Vietnam isn’t that far away!”

“No, I won’t be able to.”

“But it’s really important!”

The thing is, gainsaying an objection never works. Perhaps someone will make a new decision based on new information. But the only new information you’re presenting with your pushiness is information about how selfish you are.

Alternative: “Sometimes, people feel that way. I totally understand. But when they learn . . . they make a different decision.”

Unreasonable clients

Who gets your best work?

If you reserve your best effort for the irritable boss, the never-pleased client and the bully of a customer, then you’ve bought into a system that rewards the very people who are driving you nuts. It’s no wonder you have clients like that–they get your best work.

On the other hand, when you make it clear (and then deliver) on the promise that your best work goes to those that are clear, respectful and patient, you become a specialist in having customers just like that.

One of the largest turning points of my career was firing the client who accounted for a third of my company’s work. We were becoming really good at tolerating the stress that came from this engagement, and it became clear to me that we were about to sign up for a lifetime of clients like that.

Set free to work for those that we believed deserved our best work, we replaced the lost business in less than six months.

Years ago, I heard the story of a large retail financial services company that did the math and discovered that fewer than 5% of their customers were accounting for more than 80% of their customer service calls–and less than 1% of their profit. They sent these customers a nice note, let them know that they wouldn’t be able to service them properly going forward, and offered to help them transfer their accounts to a competitor. With the time freed up, they could then have their customer service people double down on the customers that actually mattered to them… grease, but without the squeaky wheel part.

No, you can’t always fire those that are imperious or bullies. But yes, you can figure out how to dig even deeper for those that aren’t. That means you won’t take advantage of their good nature, or settle for giving them merely what they will accept. Instead, you treat the good guys with even more effort and care and grace than you ever would have exerted for the tyrants.

The word will spread.

[The other alternative is a fine one, if you’re up for it… specialize in the worst possible clients and bosses, the least gratifying assignments. You’ll stand out in an uncrowded field! The mistake is thinking you’re doing one and actually doing neither by doing both.]

Three questions to ask your marketing team

(or your business development team, your fundraising team or your pr folks)…

Who are you trying to reach?

If you say you are trying to reach everyone, I’ll know you’re likely to reach no one. How specifically can you identify the psychographics, worldview and needs of the people we seek to change?

Why do they decide to support us?

In order to earn the donation, make the sale, generate the buzz, we need to change people somehow. When we change them, what happens? What story do they tell themselves?

What do you need in order to make this happen more often?

What resources, tools or facts need to be present for this to work for you? What do we have to change about our products, our services or our people? How do you know?

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