Leaving Nokia, Joining MyStrands

It seems like just yesterday that I was writing enthusiastically about joining Nokia, and then about my excitement about working at Nokia on an ambitious new project (related to Context, Content and Community) at an ambitious new lab (Nokia Research Center Palo Alto), but in fact it's been over a year since the initiation of that transition (I believe I'm always in transition, just differentially willing and able to recognize it). I am still enthusiastic and excited about prospects for the project and the lab; I have grown to love the people at the lab and throughout the rest of the organization; I am grateful for being given the opportunity to pursue the work I love in a supportive environment (instigating a new generation of proactive displays). All of which creates strong mixed feelings for me as I think and write about my decision to leave Nokia, but as I've noted before, this blog is first and foremost a platform for entering and working through my discomfort zones.

While I am sad about leaving Nokia, I am very excited about the new position I have accepted with MyStrands, a social recommendation and discovery systems company headquartered in Corvallis, OR, employing approximately 100 people in a dozen sites throughout the world. I have chosen the title, and will play the role, of Principal Instigator (which was my unofficial title and role at Nokia), starting up a new lab in Seattle - a startup within a startup - that will help design, develop and deploy new technologies to help people discover, relate to and better enjoy the other people, places and things around them. I am very enthusiastic and excited about joining MyStrands and creating a new lab, and will write more about that in a bit (and in subsequent posts, once I officially start with that company). For now, I want to acknowledge the joy I've felt at Nokia, and the sadness I feel about leaving some of that behind.

A year and a half ago, when I ran out of runway (as my entrepreneurial friends like to put it) for my startup company, Interrelativity, and started having discussions with various people in research labs about re-entering the research world, Nokia was one of the few places where my entrepreneurial endeavors were truly valued. Most research managers I spoke with saw a gaping hole in my publication record, and didn't understand why I wasn't writing conference and journal papers while I was trying to start a company. Even though my startup didn't succeed, Nokia - in particular, Henry Tirri - recognized the risks I had been willing to take ... and was willing to take a risk in hiring me. I, in turn, was thrilled to be able to apply some of that entrepreneurial energy in what is, in many ways, a startup within a large company with a long history that includes many generations of dramatic changes.

Some of this energy has been applied in traditional (or perhaps non-traditional) research channels, but much of it, especially early on, was channeled in far less tangible ways - contributing to the co-creation of a new culture, forging relationships with people and organizations, and attracting world-class talent to the lab. Nokia has an internal process for employees to define - and seek explicit managerial approval for - their own "individual incentive plans" which can include such intangible activities. I've been very fortunate to have a manager, David Racz, who has explicitly supported these activities, and who has empowered all the members of his team to assume leadership roles in activities that benefit the team, the lab and/or the organization ... as well as the team members themselves. I have learned a lot about management and leadership (and technology, economics, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology, to name just a few areas) from David, and hope I can effectively apply some of these insights and experiences in my new role.

Our team has grown from 2 to 12 over the past year, and despite - or perhaps because of - the diversity of people, I feel a strong personal connection with each of the members, above and beyond the professional dimensions of our relationship(s). In fact, it is these personal bonds - that also extend to many other members of the lab (which, under John Shen's leadership, has grown from 20 to 50), as well as people from other parts of Nokia - that I am saddest about leaving. I know from past experience that some of these relationships will persist well beyond the termination of my employment (January 25) ... but I also know that many of them will fade over time. I am grateful to have been a part of the Nokia family in Palo Alto, and to have had the opportunity to connect deeply with many people in ways that transcend "work".

Having recently written about the importance of aligning talents with roles in creating a high performance team, I can honestly say that I have never worked in an environment where I felt my talents – the things I cannot help but do (or, more formally, “recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied”) – have been so well supported, or where I felt I could contribute so easily and effectively by simply doing what comes naturally to me: winning others over, connecting, relating, ideating and adapting (my top 5 talents, according to the Clifton StrengthsFinder).

So, one might wonder, why have I decided to leave such a supportive environment? In a nutshell, it is because my conversations with key members of the executive team at MyStrands lead me to believe that I will be similarly well-supported in engaging my talents there, and that my new role in setting up and coordinating the activities in a new lab will enable me to make even more significant contributions at MyStrands than at Nokia, through practicing what I’ve been preaching about leadership, innovation and – of course – helping people relate to the people, places and things around them ... and doing so closer to home, enabling me to strengthen relationships with my family and friends in the Seattle area.

Essentially, I am leaving the best job I've ever had for another job I believe I will love even more.

In making my decision, I've applied the No-Lose Decision Model from Susan Jeffers' book, Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway. I shared this model in a blog post during my last major transition (when I decided to join Nokia), and want to repeat it here, because I've found it very useful (again) ... and it may prove useful to others:

Before you make a decision:

  1. Focus immediately on the no-lose model (whichever path you choose will provide learning opportunities … even if it’s learning what you don’t like)
  2. Do your homework (talk to as many people as will listen … both to help clarify your own intention and to get alternative perspectives)
  3. Establish your priorities (which pathway is more in line with your overall goals in life – at the present time)
  4. Trust your impulses (your body gives you good clues about which way to go)
  5. Lighten up (it really doesn’t matter – it’s all part of a lifelong learning process)

After making a decision:

  1. Throw away the picture (if you focus on what you expected, you may miss the unexpected opportunities that arise along the new path you’ve chosen)
  2. Accept total responsibility for your decision (don’t give away your power)
  3. Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

So, once again (or perhaps I should say "as usual"), I'm not sure what to expect, but I have high hopes that this new chapter of my career will unfold in ways that offer significant benefits for everyone involved. My experience at Nokia exceeded all my expectations, and I look forward to opening up new dimensions at MyStrands through which unexpected opportunities can be identified and embraced - by me and others.

Mobilizing Social Software / Socializing Mobile Software: Nokia Mobile Mashup

Mobile Mashup 2007 Nokia held its second Mobile Mashup on Thursday. The theme for the event was "the future of mobile social", and we had a series of conversations on and off stage about how social software is and will be mobilized, as well as how mobile software (and devices) are being socialized. [Disclosure: I work for Nokia, but nothing I write on this blog should be construed as representing the official views of the company.]

The first conversation was between Tero Ojanperä, EVP & CTO, Nokia, and Seamus McAteer, Chief Product Architect, M:Metrics. The "fireside chat" (there was no fire, but it was a relaxed discussion) started on the topic of Tero's new role in heading the new Entertainment and Communities business unit of Nokia's new [re]organization (effective January 1), where he will seeking new ways of unleashing the creativity of content developers (formerly known as consumers) through services such as MOSH, the recently released content sharing service we were promoting at Pop!Tech 2007, where many of the attendees interviewed - and videotaped - each other using Nokia N95 multimedia phones, and posted the interviews in a special PopTech 2007 collection (a fabulous mashup - or montage - of which, created by my colleague Nils Huehnergarth, is highly recommended (I just watched it again, and had yet another Pop!Tech-induced whole body experience watching the continuous partial conversations (but I digress))).

Other topics Tero and Seamus covered included the origins and goals of Ovi (Finnish for "door", Nokia's recently launched Internet gateway service), our increasing focus on developing regions (or emerging markets (or, as I was told is the latest term by another attendee, "growth economies")) and our recently launched proactive displays research prototype (woo woo!). Near the end of the conversation, when asked about the recent acquisition of Navteq, Tero noted that one of his goals is not just to bring the web to mobiles, but to co-create a context-sensitive web. Emphasizing that the key to the future of mobile social software is openness, Tero closed with the challenge "rather than sharing a pie that does not exist, can we create a new industry that will serve everyone who participates in its creation?"

Next up was the first of a series of 5-minute "fast pitch" presentations by companies who are developing mobile social software:

  • Brring offers a service where subscribers can earn money by incorporating advertising in their ringbacks (what calling parties hear when they dial the subscriber's number), and can earn even more money if they personalize ringbacks (advertisements) for their friends by creating profiles of them (which raises some privacy issues, though I suppose subscribers need not create accurate profiles of their friends ... and I can imagine interesting network - or perhaps, cyclical - effects arising ... "you profile me, I'll profile you").
  • MyKidIsSafe offers a service that will monitor a child's use of SMS, email and Internet browsing, and alerts parents (via email or SMS) if any of 1500 objectionable words is detected. The speaker led off with some statistics - 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be molested by age 18, 50% of victims are under the age of 12, 30% never disclose the abuse, 75% of disclosures happen accidentally, and 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given time. I admire the presenter for his courageous disclosure that he and eight of his friends were sexually molested as children (such public disclosures are likely to reduce the number of nondisclosures). But I will also note my skepticism about the 50,000 online sexual predators statistic and my general belief that fears over online sexual predation are vastly disproportionate to the actual risks.
  • Tapatap offers an online "social contest community" service through which users can create online contests - typically involving photos that people can vote on - in which people can participate by voting on their mobile phones or other web browser platforms. Contest sponsors can add a badge or widget to any major social networking service - of SNS - page (e.g., MySpace, Facebook, etc.). What most appealed to me about this service is that it represents a kind of Manhattan Story Mashup for the Masses (MSM was a Nokia-sponsored one-time event co-created by my [now] colleague Ville Tuulos that I mentioned in a blog post on Pervasive 2007 - a contest involving large screens, mobile phones and the web)
  • Vello is a service that lets you schedule a conference call through a web interface that will send out invitations to participants (as Outlook Calendar items) and then call the other participants at the scheduled time. This was demonstrated in real-time for attendees at the Mobile Mashup, who were asked to [temporarily] change their mobile phone settings from silent to loud, creating, in effect, a short, impromptu telesymphony.
  • Vyro Games demonstrated their Personal Input POD (PIP), a mobile stress management tool that uses a small wireless device that measures stress via electrodermal activity (EDA) in a fingertip and transmits the data via Bluetooth to a nearby mobile phone running their software. Nokians Doug MacMillan and Ashley Walker participated in Vyro's Relax and Race game onstage, in which the more relaxed person wins the race; the winner, Ashley, who was at the center of the storm in the planning and execution of this event (and our participation at Pop!Tech) then further demonstrated remarkable relaxation prowess in the single-player Storm Chaser game.

Next up was a panel on Community Building moderated by Serena Glover, founder of Twango (recently acquired by Nokia); panelists included Matthew Rothenberg (representing Flickr, a photo-sharing community), Kevin Yen (representing YouTube, a video-sharing community) and Jessica Alter (representing Bebo, a multimedia social networking community). I see that Alex Pang has posted pretty comprehensive coverage of this panel on his End of Cyberspace blog, so I'll just note a few highlights here.

  • It's all about self-expression, people having something to say ... and having people to say it to (Jessica)
  • Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for any Flickr user to get their data into or out of Flickr (Matt)
  • The value proposition is key: people will invest time to learn something if they see it as really useful (Kevin)
  • The next generation services will be based on augmenting experiences in the real world (Matt)
  • Today it's all about camera phone photos taken & posted form events; in the future, it will be streaming video from events (Kevin)
  • There's no way to make a service just mobile or just web anymore (Jessica)

The last panel before lunch was on the Millenial Mindset entitled "Schooled by the Next Generation – Today's Youth on Mobile Social", moderated by Ben Bajarin (Creative Strategies). Ben led off with some statistics about four categories of Internet users - Silver surfers (55M, age 65+), Baby boomers (77M, ages 40-65), Gen X (49M, ages 25-40) and Millenials or Gen Y (79M, ages 12-24) - and noting that every generation has a world view. The millenials' world view includes assumptions about connectivity and control - users control their media, media does not control them (although I wonder about the addictive nature of some online media sites, e.g., MySpace and Facebook, with respect to control or at least discipline issues) - and the need for speed (processing information up to 5 times faster than earlier generations ... Robert Scoble's recent demonstration of live linkblogging comes to mind, though Robert is not, technically, a millenial).

Panelist Ben Keighran, founder of Bluepulse (a video interview with whom was recently podcast by Scoble), noted that there are two categories of social networking services (SNS) for mobiles: chasing after MySpace vs. improving communication among real groups of friends ... and Ben's choice of words probably makes it clear which group Bluepulse falls into (the latter). Jon Lunetta, Director of Worldwide Sales for mywaves, noted that many millenial users are becoming CTO's of their own household and their network of friends. Ben also noted a "party host" phenomenon, where approximately 1 in 10 Bluepulse users become primary content creators for their circle of friends.

The panel also included two millenials, Andrew (a college freshman) and Christina (a high school student), who shared some of their first hand experiences with mobiles and social software. In the mobile world, both prefer texting over talking (for time, energy and/or multi-tasking or multi-channeling reasons), but differ in their favorite SNS - Andrew prefers Facebook (now that he is in college) and Christina prefers MySpace. For that matter, Ben (a Gen Xer, by my estimation) also said he has found Facebook very helpful in his recent move from Australia, and Jon (also a Gen Xer, I think) said he has increasingly been using Facebook for business contacts. Hmmm ... it's too bad Reid Hoffman (from LinkedIn) wasn't able to attend the event (due to illness), as it would have been interesting to discuss Facebook vs. LinkedIn for business-oriented social networking ... leading me to wonder about whether the famous quote from The Godfather - "it's nothing personal, it's just business" - applies to the world of social networking (or the world of business) [anymore].

After lunch, we started off with a panel on "Business Models for Mobile SocialCasting" moderated by Tim Chang, a Principal with Norwest Venture Partners. Rob Trice, a Partner with Nokia Growth Partners, started off drawing a two-dimensional graph representing growth areas for social software (Tim remarked that the traditional after-dinner activity at Rob's house is to go to the whiteboard): one dimension is existing vs. new, the other dimension is PC vs. mobile, noting that the disruptive opportunities lie along the horizontal line (spanning PC and mobile). Vineet Buch, a Principal at BlueRun Ventures, noted that the three main ingredients (and stages) in a successful SNS are vitality, engagement and monetization (in that order). Michelle Law, a Principal with Greylock Partners, noted that in the US, due to its high penetration of PCs, mobile SNS will primarily be extensions of PC-based SNS, and will based on one of three primary business models: subscription, advertising (impression-based), or virtual goods / virtual currency. Daniel Graf, CEO of, started out with a Kyte.TV video created and posted by Robert Scoble using an N95 while driving (Scoble has also created and posted a video about Daniel Graf and Kyte.TV ... focusing on it's use on a non-Nokia phone). Daniel noted that SNS are all about sharing relevant moments with your friends ... and - hopefully - most of those do not take place when you are in front of your PC.

There was another Fast Pitch session next, but I was out in the hallway, going over last-minute preparations with the moderator and panelists for the next panel (which I'd organized).

Futurecommunitiespanel The panel, on "The Future of Connected Communities", began with moderator Alex Pang, Research Director at the Institute For The Future and author of 3 (!) fabulous blogs (Relevant History, The End of Cyberspace and IFTF's Future Now) introducing the panelists - Scott Golder (Researcher, HP Labs); Andrew Fiore (Ph.D. student, UC Berkeley); Marc Davis (Social Media Guru, Yahoo!) and Eric Paulos (Senior Research Scientist, Intel Research Berkeley) - and asking them to comment on concepts or technologies  in the research on connected communities that had not yet been discussed during the day. Scott warned of the incipient dangers of information overload, and noted that "if all my FB friends updated their statuses 5 times a day, I’d cancel my account." Marc observed that we tend to overload "social" when talking about social networking, distinguishing between social networks (where people generally know those they link to) and attention networks (where people follow someone else's media stream, whether or not they really know them) and said that mobiles will increasingly become not [just] windows into the web, but part of a massively connected network that connects people to each other and to resources in the physical world. Andrew raised the question "What is a community?", noting the negative reaction of many Facebook users to the news feeds "feature", and said that SNS designers have to be sensitive to different levels of boundaries and the shared sense of symbols or meanings people create within those boundaries. Eric predicted that mobile and situated sensors - beyond cameras and microphones - will be a big thing, and that the enhanced ability to collectively sense and make sense of our environments will enable people to come together and promote grass-roots change. As an example of this, Marc noted how the use of mobiles to track the news on the London Bombings shows how the nature of news is being transformed (the recent "Twitterquake" is another recent example, closer to home).

Observing that in the near future, we'll have not just 4 billion people, but lots of other things connected on the net, Alex asked "What then? Will my refrigerator be on Facebook, and will it be offended if I don’t friend it?" Eric noted that this will create more opportunities for awareness of your everyday environment; Scott predicted that things like being able track physical events like what I've eaten and spent will help people improve their lives; Andrew noted that expanding awareness into, for example, what my friends are eating, will amplify the impacts of the tracking of personal events; Marc warned that as more real data about real people in the real world become available on mind, we have to be careful about structuring boundaries and relationships so that people feel safe (and thus, willing to share their data).

Scott then interjected that one of the important business (vs. social or technological) questions is “Who owns that data? Can your neighbor say 'Can I borrow a cup of sugar, I see you have plenty of it?'  Can Safeway say 'You can’t have accesss to the data we have on the contents of your refrigerator'?" Marc agreed, adding a legal dimension to the discussion by noting a privacy bill introduced by John Edwards, and observing that well architected systems incentivize participation and protect privacy at the same time. Eric mused "I’m thinking of really bad DRM [Digital Rights Management] on your refrigerator."

Marc then turned attention to the audience, and asked "How many people out there who are working on mobile social software have an anthropologist / psychologist / sociologist on your teams?" Unfortunately, but hardly surprisingly (given my own experience), only about 5 hands went up. Mark then warned that "people have been studying these issues for hundreds of years … you’re hampering your efforts by not tapping into that."

The conversation among the moderator and panelists was flowing so smoothly that we were getting toward the end of our scheduled time without having opened up the floor to questions from the audience. Fortunately, Robert Scoble was there, and toward the end of the panel, he stood up and interjected a comment and a question (again demonstrating the changing nature of "news"): "I was just with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, and Chris DeWolfe, CEO of MySpace, where they announced they are going to work together on the open social platform. Do you have any comment?" [Unfortunately, my attention shifted from offline to online, and I started browsing around for more information about this - finding, among other things, the video interview that Robert had just posted with Eric and Chris - and so I didn't catch the responses from the panel.]

The next (and last) question was asked by my colleague, John Loughney, having to do with the risks of posting half-naked photos on MySpace that come back to haunt people during subsequent job interviews. Eric boldly opined that we are the last generation who will care about that. John started to ask another question about the tradeoffs between real time vs. virtual time together, but Valerie Buckingham, the overall organizer of the event, intervened to try to get us back on schedule, wryly noting that "I think I just heard that young people today don’t know what they’re doing".

Unfortunately, due to my engagement in the preceding panel and subsequent conversation with the panelists immediately after, I cannot report much on the next panel, on "Open Innovations - Communities of Developers that Create Communities of People", except to note that Valerie had another pithy assessment to offer at the end: "You know how once you decide to buy a certain car you see that car everywhere? Once we decided to embrace open innovation, we started to see that everywhere."

I did catch bits and pieces of the next (and last) Fast Pitch session:

  • Mig33 is a mobile software service that is like MySpace, Email, Skype all rolled into one [mobile] platform.
  • Mozes enables anyone to create a mobile promotion campaign (e.g., using SMS) that is also accessible through a PC browser.
  • MyStrands offers a mobile social [music] player that bridges the gap between the web, the desktop and mobile devices, enabling users to play music, receive recommendations and connect with a community of friends and other music lovers. In the spirit of open innovation, they have recently announced an OpenStrands public API for their media and community services and are looking for sponsorship and distribution deals.
  • Social FM is a social music service that offers discovery, sharing and recommendations, synching over home wireless networks, and "the fastest codec" for music in the business. The slide deck used images of very attractive performers Nelly Furtado and Fergie, which I noticed seemed to rivet the visual attention of large segments of the audience (um, not that I was in any affected, of course).

Whew! It was quite a day, and these notes only cover some of the highlights. It is always useful for me to go back and review my notes from events like this, doing a little more research on what was presented and discussed, and digesting it all in a somewhat more accessible way (than scattered notes in a Word document). As usual, I don't know if any of this is useful for anyone else, but it will at least provide a useful future reference point for me.

Active Words, Hyperactive Reading and Hyperconnectivity: Buzz and Scoble at NRC Palo Alto

Buzz Bruggeman and Robert Scoble visited NRC Palo Alto yesterday and presented at our Thursday Lunch Forum. Buzz demonstrated ActiveWords, a Windows utility for customizable keyboard macros that can launch applications and/or insert text in an application. One of his examples was using a few keystrokes to launch Outlook and create an entire email message ... that looked exactly like the one he'd sent me when he proposed some things that he and Robert might talk about. On the one hand, I was very impressed with the potential productivity / efficiency gains offered by this tool ... on the other hand, I have to admit somehow feeling a little less "special" having been on the receiving end of such an easily constructed email.

Buzzatnrcpa In addition to specific demonstrations, Buzz raised some more general issues, e.g., articulating the question "why can't computers understand us?" as one of his motivations behind inventing ActiveWords, noting the challenges of being both CEO and inventor (a CEO's primary job description should be Cash Enhancement Officer, not inventor), and describing an "aha" moment with respect to the power of social media when a 4-star review of ActiveWords in USA Today (2M readers) resulted in 38 downloads, but a brief mention in a blog post by Scoble resulted in 4000 downloads.

Scobleatnrcpa Scoblesocialmediaspace Robert drew a diagram of the social media space on a whiteboard, introduced us to a number of social media services (well, several of them were new to me), and demonstrated his phenomenal pace of reading, processing, and posting material on some of these services - he has the highest number of feed subscriptions in Google Reader (900), from which he reads approximately 42,000 per month; by the time he'd arrived for our lunchtime forum at the lab, he reckoned he'd already read 1600 items that day.

He also demonstrated using his Nokia N95 - a device about which he has had both positive things and negative things to say - to record and post a short video of an impromptu interview of his host at Nokia on (in which Nokia is an investor), which was then instantly propagated (syndicated?) to dozens of channel portals he has throughout the web.

[I was actually a bit flustered when he interviewed me, which is glaringly obvious to me when I watch it, but I've been increasingly aware of how full of my self I've been lately, and so am posting it here to practice more humility. [Update: my wife said my fluster was not obvious but confirmed that I have been rather full of myself lately, so I've removed the embedded link.]]

Toward the end of the visit, Buzz - to whom we had given an N95 at Pop!Tech - emphasized the market opportunity for mobile multimedia devices like the N95 to reach the fastest growing segment of computer users, with the largest amount of discretionary time and generational transfer of wealth: aging baby boomers. He ended with a petition, highlighting some of our usability challenges: make the N95 easier to use for people who want to videotape their grandchildren.

Speaking of Pop!Tech (which I've been doing alot lately), I first encountered Buzz - offline - at Pop!Tech, where he described himself as the "hall monitor" for our session on mobile empowerment. For the remainder of the conference, every time I saw Buzz, he introduced me to yet another interesting attendee or speaker. As someone who prides himself on being a connector, and who once even assigned himself the title "Connector-in-Chief" (when I founded the now defunct Interrelativity, Inc.), I felt very much outclassed by the hyperconnectivity that seems to come so naturally to Buzz. When Buzz sent me a note saying that he'd be in town this Thursday, and maybe he and Scoble could stop by to visit our lab, I eagerly accepted the invitation to make another connection.

The note also helped me remember where I'd first encountered Buzz online - Scoble and Shel Israel had referred to him as "The Connection King" in their book Naked Conversations (I'll note that I'm practicing what I preached in the title of my blog post about the book: Blog Early, Blog Often: Naked Conversations in the Morning). I can say, without reservation, that this is a well-deserved title.

[Update, 2007-Nov-5: I see that Robert has posted a somewhat more polished rendition of his social media starfish (created by Darren Barefoot) on his blog; including a copy below.]

Universal, Empowerment, Partnership (Pop!Tech 2007 pre-conference session)

Poptechlogo_94px Michele Bowman, the host for our Pop!Tech pre-conference Wednesday afternoon session on "The Future of Mobility", started off the session by inviting each of the 40 attendees - and the three panelists -  to introduce themselves by stating their names followed by up to three words (a "three word introduction" of sorts). It was a nice balance of inviting a small amount of initial participation from a large number of people right at the outset, and the words people chose were illuminating (and often rather humorous: I remember "jetlagged" as being among the most frequently used terms). Anyhow, my three words were "universal, empowerment, partnership" ... primarily because they seemed to be the themes that were most prevalent in [my conception of] the short talk I was giving there on "Empowering People through Mobile Technologies in Developing Regions".

Katrin Verclas, of, was the first speaker, and she provided a broad overview of the ways that mobile technologies are being used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to empower people in developing regions to achieve greater political, social, economic and/or environmental justice - a sort of mobile window into some of the types of activities that Paul Hawken champions in his book Blessed Unrest (and catalogs at Nathan Eagle, a Research Scientist from MIT who has visiting appointments at a number of African universities, talked about his Entrepreneurial Programming and Research On Mobiles (EPROM) initiative, in which he is teaching computer science students in Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia how to program mobile phones - the only computing platform many of them (and their friends and families) are likely to have access to, emphasizing the indigenous entrepreneurial (vs. non-profit) prospects for mobile technologies for empowering people in developing regions.

I attempted to bridge the gap between the NGO and entrepreneurial / academic approaches represented by Katrin and Nathan, presenting a whirlwind overview of some of the ways that Nokia has been facilitating empowerment - through partnerships and provisioning of assistance in the form of Nokia devices (e.g., phones and networking equipment) and the involvement Nokia people with ethnography, design, engineering and other sociotechnical skills - in developing regions around the world. A recurring theme in all of our work is partnership - with NGOs, governmental organizations, multinational companies, local entrepreneurs, and, of course, professors (such as Nathan) and students from a variety of academic institutions.

[Katrin, Nathan and I have posted our slides on Slideshare (tag: poptech2007), and I hope Nathan will upload his there once he's done with his current round of travels. Katrin has also posted an entry on the session at I'll embed mine below.]

As I'd noted in my blog post on Blessed Unrest, I was excited about the opportunity to present - especially at a venue like Pop!Tech, and along with speakers like Katrin and Nathan who have done so much in this area - and yet I was feeling a bit self-conscious that I haven't [yet] done much more than talk and/or write about the challenges faced by people in developing regions, and the other people who are rising to help meet those challenges (fortunately, including a number of other people at Nokia, for whom I was simply serving as a spokesperson). I'm hoping that by continuing to follow this relatively new personal opening to opportunities for empowering people in developing regions (catalyzed by a number of sessions on Africa at Foo Camp this summer), I'll eventually be in a position to do more than talk and write about these opportunities.

Yesterday, the first full day of Pop!Tech, was filled with inspiring speakers and stories of people who are empowering people in the developing world (about which I'll post more in a separate entry). It was so inspiring, in fact, that I decided to cancel my plans to leave early and attend another conference, which is more relevant to my current focus of research (similar to the gravity pull toward a session on Africa I felt at the Communities and Technologies 2007 conference). Today promises more inspiring talks as well ... it may take me a while to properly (or even improperly) digest them, but I'll post more in the near future.

[Full disclosure: Nokia (my employer) was a sponsor of the conference, providing financial support for the conference, giving away N95 mobile phones to conference speakers and attendees of this session, making another set of N95s available as “loaners”, offering a special channel on our recently released MOSH mobile content sharing web service for the conference, and encouraging people to use the N95s to conduct "The Nokia Interview" – videotaping another participant answering one of a set of suggested suggestions, or discussing any other topic of interest or relevance to the Pop!Tech community.]

A New Generation of Proactive Displays

We launched our new proactive display application at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto two weeks ago. The application - provisionally called the Context, Content and Community Collage - situates online content in a shared physical context to foster a greater sense of community, representing a convergence of the core themes of our Context, Content and Community project and earlier instantiations of proactive displays. The content currently consists of photos that are slowly and semi-randomly distributed across one [or more] of the eight HyTek 46" LCD touchcomputers we've deployed around the lab.


We call these proactive displays because they sense who is nearby - in this case, via Bluetooth phone IDs - and respond - by selecting photos from public Flickr profiles that people have explicitly associated with those Bluetooth IDs. Although the displays support interactivity (people can move the photos or delete them via the touchscreen), their primary mode of "use" is for the system to proactively select and show photos when people draw near, without requiring any kind of direct interaction by those people.

This work extends earlier work on proactive displays in interesting and [hopefully] useful ways. An earlier installation of proactive displays at UbiComp 2003 used RFID tags and readers to sense who was nearby, drew content primarily from specially-created web-based profiles, and were only in use for three days (during the conference).  The new proactive displays use Bluetooth phones for sensing, draw content from other sources such as Flickr, and will be in use, well, for the foreseeable future (I hope (!)).

I was fortunate during our earlier instantiation of proactive displays to be working with a team of three fabulous interns, and was disappointed about unanticipated events that disrupted that trajectory of research (at that time and place). At this new time and place, I once again feel fortunate to be working closely with another group of three fabulous interns - Max Harper, Ben Congleton and Jiang Bian - along with the rest of the NRC Palo Alto Context, Content and Community team, following through on some earlier articulated intentions for working on context, content and community, increasingly wholeheartedly enthusiastic [again] about prospects for proactive displays ... and feeling a certain affinity for the myth of the Phoenix at the moment.

At the two week mark now, early responses - by people to the displays - is very encouraging, and our short term challenges are how to keep up with all the cool new features people are suggesting ... and how to effectively evaluate the impact these displays have on the people here. It's hard to believe the interns will only be here another few weeks, but I'm confident we'll [continue to] make good progress. Meanwhile, I posted some slides I presented at a workshop a few weeks ago at Communities & Technologies 2007 that outline some of our initial plans and goals, and will be posting some new slides after my upcoming talk at Yahoo! Research Berkeley Brain Jam on August 17.

[Update: Jeff Johnson posted a video he took of a proactive display in action during a recent visit to the NRC Palo Alto site, embedded below.]

[Another update: embedding my slides from CSCW 2008, which are based on our paper, The Context, Content & Community Collage: Sharing Personal Digital Media in the Physical Workplace.]

Radical Transparency: Revelation, Reputation and Reciprocity

Wired_cover15_04The current issue of Wired has a great feature on radical transparency, highlighting the benefits that accrue to CEOs who are open to revealing their shadows, and exposing the risks to the reputations of those who continue to embrace secrecy and/or duplicity in their self representations. As with many Wired features, it is provocative ... and rather biased ... and just happens to align well with my own biases. I want to explore some of the issues raised in the article, blend in some issues I and others have raised elsewhere, and ruminate a bit about the prospective breadth and depth of radical transparency.

In preparing the lead article, The See-Through CEO, author Clive Thompson walked his talk by posting an entry on his blog outlining his plans (focusing on three themes: "secrecy is dead", "tap the hivemind", "reputation is everything"), and inviting comments. He received over 50 responses, with very high signal-to-noise ratio; several of them are explicitly included in his article (others are presumably implicitly included).

Redfin_logo_208_46 Clive opens his article with a story about how Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, was faced with mounting challenges to his company's attempt to disintermediate the real estate business by empowering home buyers and sellers through a rich (and enriching) Internet application. Redfin provides an easy-to-use window into the real estate market, offering a map-based interface for prospective buyers to see a wealth of information about homes for sale in a given market (I imagine a similarly powerful interface for home sellers, but have not yet explored that side of the house). Faced with resistance by realtors who understandably feel threatened by this introduction of disruptive technology that [somewhat ironically] renders transparent many aspects of a complex and lucrative market in which they once enjoyed a clear hegemony of information, Redfin was in danger of failing.

Glenn created a blog to reveal some of the challenges he was encountering internally and externally. While initially hesitant to being so open about the challenges, he found that "instead of discouraging customers, being open about our problems radicalized them ... they rallied and started pulling for us". Glenn's move, and the response, hardly surprises me, given his inspiring recommendations on 10 Steps for Building a Company at NWEN's Entrepreneur University 2005 (one of which was "be open and honest and respectful") and his more recent presentation on Fortune Favors the Bold (one of which is "radical openness: the truth will set you free"). I'm also reminded of Glenn's recommendations for hiring employees -- "find the maniacs and give them a reason to believe" ... and given how he has, in effect, invited his customers into the pool of maniacs and believers, I'm thinking that my earlier rumination on everyone's a customer might be due for an update, as it appears that, increasingly, everyone's a partner.

I was [further] reflecting on how openness and vulnerability tends to breed reciprocity, and that if businesses want to build strong relationships with customers, that has to be built on a platform of trust, and the best way to get others to trust you is to trust them (demonstrating trustworthiness by trusting). I've written before about the business value of integrity, openness, vulnerability and compassion, but at that point was thinking more about how those principles might be applied internally. As Web 2.0 progessively erodes the barriers between us and them, there may be more business value to practicing those principles in "external" relationships as well.

Clive notes that

Google is not a search engine. Google is a reputation management system ... here's the interesting paradox: The reputation economy creates and incentive to be more open, not less. Since Internet commentary is inescapable, the only way to influence it is to be part of it ... network algorithms do not favor the cagey or secretive. They favor the prolific, the outgoing, the shameless.

However, I started to wonder how widely this radical transparency really applies (or could apply). Redfin is clearly a company that is setting out to empower its customers, and it's little surprise to me that some of those customers would help Redfin help them. Microsoft is another company that was profiled in this feature, where Fred Vogelstein [who, surprisingly to me, does not appear to have a blog] explored Operation Channel 9, the internal project wherein a small group of radicals went around creating impromptu videotape interviews with Microsoft developers and posting them on an external web site, and observed that "no large company - with the possible exception of Sun Microsystems - is as far along in understanding how the Internet changes the way employees connect with suppliers, customers, shareholders and peers". By promoting openness and vulnerability -- sometimes at the risk of being fired (reminding me of the risk / reward tradeoffs between thriving and surviving discussed -- especially in the comments -- in my last post) -- the Channel 9 crew helped Microsoft establish a new [virtual] front porch, making itself more approachable by its network of third party developers ... and, I suspect, a significant number of its end-users. This channel is also augmented with over 4,500 other channels (external bloggers), giving Microsoft one of the highest [external] blogger-per-capita rates (6.3%) of any company I know of.

So why does Microsoft have so many external bloggers, and why does, say, Nokia have so few? The blogroll at Stephen Johnston's ThreeDimensionalPeople blog has the most complete listing I've seen anywhere, but at 15 of 55,000, we have a blogger-per-employee ratio of 0.02%. There are, of course, a number of blogs sponsored or at least promoted by Forum Nokia, but as the forum is invitation-only (and the invitation can presumably be revoked at any time), I'm not sure how high these blogs would score on the radical transparency scale. I realize that many of the Microsoft blogs are primarily "promotional", but many of them tend to play closer to the edges with respect to what they reveal about the company and its practices, policies and personnel.

I know Nokia is very proud -- and protective -- of its brand, and so I started wondering about whether there is a fundamental tension between branding and blogging? According to Business Week's listing of Top 100 Global Brands, Nokia's brand is #6 and Microsoft is #2, suggesting that blogging does not adversely affect the brand (or at least not necessarily so). IBM, which has an extensive array of internal blogs (3,600 as of a report 2 years ago) and wikis, is #3 among brands, and seems to have hundreds of external blogs (judging from a few lists). On the other end of the spectrum, Coca-Cola (the #1 brand) has one rather infamous flog (fake blog), but very few "real" blogs (that I can find).

Does the discrepancy between external blog adoption rates have anything to do with a company's dedication to the empowerment of its customers? Nokia's mantra ("connecting people") certainly implies a level of individual empowerment, though perhaps not in the same way as Microsoft's mantra ("your potenial, our passion"), and I would argue that neither large company empowers its customers as clearly as Redfin does. It would be interesting to do a more comprehensive assessment of the correlation between brands and blogs, and even more interesting to investigate the causal relationship(s) between these two factors (and other factors such as size, vision, mission, values, industry, customer bases and business models). Meanwhile, in the spirit of Clive's openness, I welcome any insights anyone has to share on any of this.

Fino, Finis, Finnish: Jukka Soikkeli's Farewell Party (and the Power of Passion)

Jukkaatfino We celebrated Jukka Soikkeli's 20+ years at Nokia Research Center at Cafe Fino in Palo Alto last night. Besides learning about Jukka's penchant for Corvettes, and some of his tangible and intangible contributions to (and through) Nokia, it was noted that Jukka is a prototypical Finn: a man of few words, the wisdom of which often becomes evident well after they are uttered. In keeping with this tradition, Jukka gave a rather short speech, although the wisdom (for me) was immediately apparent. One of the things he emphasized was the importance of passion as the key ingredient behind successes he'd witnessed (and promoted) in his years at Nokia. He encouraged those of us who will be continuing on with the firm to not pay so much attention to what people further up the chain are saying [I'm suddenly struck by the multiple interpretations one might associate with the "chains of command(s)"], but to follow our instincts when we're on to something we truly believe is important. [I've posted a separate entry on following my instincts in sharing my passion for Amarone last night on my wine blog]

The topic(s) of passion, instincts and authority provided an undercurrent to many of the discussions I had throughout the rest of the evening with several of my colleagues here at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto. I believe everyone believes in the power of passion, but some of the people who have been with NRC for a long period of time have experienced or witnessed changes that I've heard variously described with terms ranging from gentle breezes to earthquakes. While we are regularly encouraged to take risks here, it's very challenging to take risks in an environment that is not perceived as offering a high level of trust and support. NRC Palo Alto is a new lab, and as such we are co-creating a new culture; as we develop and apply our skills in technical areas, we need to consciously cultivate the kinds of social and community support that will offer the scaffolding needed for bold[er] actions ... and to recognize that we are all leaders in this effort.

I wrote recently about how I feel I'm really coming alive again, after having lived and worked through some winds of change and groundshaking experiences myself (in both the personal and professional dimensions). I still feel very much the new kid on the block, having been here just over 6 months, and coupled with my natural naivete and unbridled optimism, I have high hopes about our prospects for creating a high trust environment that will encourage the kinds of risks we'll need to take in order to succeed.

Mashing up the wisdom of Jukka with a quote often attributed to Harold Thurman Whitman:

Don’t ask yourself what the world Nokia needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world Nokia needs is people who have come alive.

Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you

ClearmindwildheartDavid Whyte's poetry and narratives in the 6-CD collection, Clear Mind, Wild Heart: Finding Courage and Clarity through Poetry, continue to inspire me. The title of this post is taken from his poem, Sweet Darkness, in which he writes about darkness, tiredness, belonging, freedom and coming alive.  This past week, I recognized that I have come alive [again] in my work -- a resurgence, of sorts -- and I was reminded of an earlier period in my research career where I felt very much alive ... closely followed by a period of darkness, tiredness and confinement. Before reflecting a bit more on personal (and professional) history, I wanted to include the poem, Sweet Darkness, (found here) for reference.

Sweet Darkness
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
~ David Whyte ~

In the accompanying narrative that Whyte offers to provide some context for the poem, he invokes the spirit of Dante ("in the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the way was wholly lost"), and encourages us middle-of-the-roaders to relinquish our clinging to a "climate-controlled existence" and embrace an investigative vulnerability as we cultivate a relationship with the unknown,  with whatever lies over the horizon.

Earlier (in Disc 1, "Our home is so close to us"), Whyte observes that

We're meant to hazard ourselves, to hurt ourselves, to be disappointed, to be on an edge in which you will discover what is you and what is not you.

and later

We naturally gravitate to the corners of creation in which we belong and in which we're supported in doing our work.

Whyte describes poetry as "the art of living at a frontier in life", offering a place of renewal, rediscovery and reimagination. Poetry is as much listening as it is speaking, creating a context in which "you can hear yourself say things you didn't know that you knew." He shares a profound example of this in Sweet Darkness, when he wrote "You must learn one thing..." and wondered, with keen anticipation, just what that one thing would turn out to be.

Further on, Whyte talks about the true nature of humliliation ("to be returned to the ground of your being") and the tendency for many of us to enage in work that we have no affection for, doing it out of our desire for belonging, i.e., doing what we think we should be doing in order to be liked, and often becoming exhausted in the process (reminding me of a recent NPR Talk of the Nation segment on Understanding Burnout, and the high cost of employee disengagement I've written about earlier). A wise Benedictine monk, Brother David, a friend of Whyte's, then shares his insight that

the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness

Whyte concludes the session with the observation that we're all creatures of belonging, and that by articulating all the ways we feel lonely, we're already on the way home ... reflecting insights shared by others regarding the most personal is the most general, and my own sense that by openly sharing our inner secrets, we are better able to connect with others.

And so, inspired by all of this, I decided to start writing, albeit more prosaically than poetically, wondering what, exactly I would say ... how I would say it ... and how deep I would be willing to delve into some of the shadows of my past. I'll start with some recent events, and revisit a few related events in the more distant past -- and the feelings and judgments they evoke[d] in me.

This past week was a particularly wholehearted nd exhilarating week for me, with a number of engaging meetings with interesting people, and culminating in a personal peak around an internal presentation (at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto) I gave on the past, present and future of proactive displays. In preparing and presenting the slides, I felt more alive than I have in quite some time ... and was offered an opportunity to reflect back upon a period where I experienced a spiritually deadening blockage in my work.

At the outset of the last episode of my assumption of the role of a researcher, I felt very much alive. I had joined a new research lab, I was co-chairing CSCW 2002 (with my dear friend, Elizabeth Churchill), and I would soon be chairing UbiComp 2003 (with lots of help from another good friend, Dave McDonald). In between, I was co-creating a research agenda that would align my passion for using technology to help people relate to one another with my role as conference chair. With the help of Dave, three fabulous interns (David Nguyen, Al "Mamun" Rashid and Suzi Soroczak), and a host of other supporting actors, we designed, developed, deployed and evaluated a suite of three proactive display applications at UbiComp 2003. Our primary goal was to foster a greater sense of community among attendees by sensing people near large displays and showing content relating to those people on the displays. While we encountered challenges of various kinds before, during and after the event, and everything did not go as planned (as anyone who has deployed large-scale sociotechnical interventions "in the wild" can probably relate to), I felt that the project was largely successful, and on the Wednesday night at the end of the conference, I felt like I was at the pinnacle of my career ... and I suppose the next few days, weeks and months only reinforced the perception that that night did, in fact, represent a peak.

I took a much-needed vacation the following Thursday, and when I came in on Friday, I had a meeting with the [now former] lab director and [now former] co-director in which I was told, in effect, that I -- or at least, my work -- wasn't good enough. My approach to research was judged unacceptable, and the work was not well-enough aligned with one of two recently annointed projects, and the goal of the director was to subsume all the research in the lab under these two projects. The proactive display project was cancelled, effectively immediately (to this day, there is no reference to the work on the web site of the lab), and I was told to work on another application, involving the creation and use of place tokens in blogs, that had been largely defined by a [then former] colleague who had left the lab, and that would align with one of the two approved projects. Unfortunately, I didn't believe in the value of the application --  or the project -- and the more I researched it, the less compelling I found the value proposition(s).

The six months following my "success" at UbiComp 2003 was the most soul squelching period of my professional life, as I continued to work on my assigned project, and I finally decided that what I really wanted to do was realign with my heartfelt mission and renew my pursuit of the proactive display agenda, of which I felt we'd only scratched the surface. Although the director would not agree to support the work, I was allocated a grace period in which to explore whether / where / how that work might be supported elsewhere in the firm, or outside of the firm. Unfortunately, while many people were supportive of the idea, no one was willing to allocate "head count" to support me in pursuing the idea. I decided the only way to realize my dream was to create a firm, Interrelativity, Inc., to support its development (with key development support provided by Khai Truong at the outset).

As I've written before, I felt very much alive in my entrepreneurial period, which was filled with fabulous rewards in nearly every dimension ... except the financial one. So, when I joined Nokia last fall, I hoped to achieve a more comprehensive spectrum of fulfillment (pursuing work aligned with my mission ... while getting paid). After six months of devoting much of my time and effort to playing a supporting role with respect to what I would characterize as cultural and organizational development, the presentation last week marked the first time I'd publicly articulated the research (and/or development) agenda to which I aspire, with the help -- and within the framework -- of the Context, Content and Community team.

Listening to Whyte's second CD ("In the middle of the road of our lives") on Friday evening -- for at least the fifth time (I've listened to all the CDs many times) -- it dawned on me that the work I am doing and the people I am working with are helping to bring me alive [again], and that my idealistic initial intuition about belonging -- in a firm whose mantra is "connecting people", a lab dedicated to inventing the future mobile Internet experience, and a team whose mission is to create large scale experimental systems for large scale social change -- increasingly appears to be grounded in reality. In writing this, I am aware that I had similar perceptions and judgments at this stage in my last research position, but I will continue to hope there are some key differences in me (now) and / or the new[er] lab that will enable me to enjoy some time in the light ... and to help me / us bring light to others.

Working at Nokia on Context, Content and Community

We recently posted an external web page for the Context, Content and Community project I'm working on (and playing with) in collaboration with some of my new colleagues here at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto. This is, by definition (or at least by name), a rather broad and ambitious undertaking. As we summarize it on the site:

Our project is dedicated to the design, development and deployment of systems to connect individuals with relevant resources in ways that create value for all stakeholders.

As we continue to explore this space, the distinctions between context, content and community seem increasingly blurred (to me). For example, as more aspects of our physical world context(s) can be captured and represented digitally, this becomes yet another dimension of content. As the people formerly-known-as consumers are empowered to [co-]create, organize and share digital content more effectively, communities of shared interests (and shared differences) emerge and grow more naturally. And as these communities form and flourish, they offer a new perspective that can, in turn, affect the contexts within which future content may be collected, shared ...  and, one hopes, better understood.

[Slightly] more detail about the project can be found on our web page (the project only officially started this month). While I am interested -- and will likely, at varying levels, be involved -- in all aspects of the project, I am particularly interested in the part that represents a continuation of a decade-long exploration:

Demonstrate new applications with compelling value propositions for bridging the gaps between people by bridging the gaps between the physical and digital worlds

Although our plans along this dimension are still incubating, the basic idea is to extend the work we [well, different we's at different times and places] have done with using technology to help people relate to and connect with one another by showing elements of people's online representations of self in the physical spaces they share with others (e.g., the Intel proactive display deployment at UbiComp 2003 and in subsequent Interrelativity deployments). The profiles we will be creating and utilizing as part of the Context, Content and Community project will be far richer, and more useful (and hopefully usable) than the special-purpose profiles that were incorporated into the earlier systems, and using mobile phones as digital proxies -- rather than special-purpose RFID tags -- offers a more natural and convenient way of enabling people to reveal more about themselves in an ambient manner.

I'll be writing more about this project as our thoughts, plans and [other] actions evolve. For now, I simply wanted to note that we have "gone public" ... and that we are hiring -- interns and post-docs, as well as full-time research scientists / engineers -- in case anyone reading this has skills, experience and passion for the design, development and deployment of sociotechnical systems that will redefine our perspectives on, and approaches to, connecting people.

Web-2-Mobile Business Plan Competition

I was surprised that Nokia was not among the sponsors of the recent Under the Radar Mobility Conference I attended, at which 32 entrepreneurs pitched their mobile products and services. A number of other major players in the mobile web space were represented at the event as sponsors and/or panelists, e.g., Motorola Ventures, Intel Capital, T-Mobile Venture Fund, and Yahoo! Mobile Web. I felt that Nokia was conspicuously absent from this lineup.

I was, thus, happy to discover this week that Nokia is the primary sponsor of another local forum for entrepreneurs targeting the mobile space: the Web-2-Mobile Business Plan Competition.

Open to all qualified entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and around the world, we are looking for technologies and services that harness the power and ubiquity of mobile devices – that create new business models, and the systems that will accelerate mobile work-styles and the mobile lifestyle.

This competition offers a prize that no one else can: the winning entrepreneurs will be invited to visit Nokia’s world-famous labs to have an opportunity to develop and test their innovations. Winners will also be profiled by Red Herring and all entrants will get valuable exposure in front of a panel of experienced VCs and investors.

Important Dates to remember:

  • Competition entry deadline: December 10, 2006
  • Finalists announced: January 2, 2007
  • Finalist presentations to judges & winners selected: January 24, 2007

I do not know yet whether the presentations will be in a public forum, but I'll post more information if / when it becomes available.