Are You Ready For A Seamless World?

seamless1As I was driving to pick up my son from school the other day, I noticed I was running late, so I used Google Now to text him and tell him I was running late. It was probably more dangerous than actually texting – the voice command to say “text so-and-so” worked great, but when I saw what it came back with, I had to redo it twice before I sent it on its way. It kept showing the text it was going to send on the screen and asking if it was OK to send it! The whole reason why I used the voice commands to create the text was so that I didn’t have to use my hands – why didn’t it read it back to me? Maybe Siri would, I should ask her.

My smartphone knew it was heading towards his school. It even mapped my route. My calendar even details out his name and his school and the time to pick him up. It knows his phone number. Why, when it could see I was running late, didn’t it ask if it could text him? It could tell him a more accurate ETA than I could have given him, considering it knew upcoming traffic and travel time. Even better, why didn’t it just send him a text anyway, once it realized I was going to be late?

I was driving to the office this morning and I noticed that I was running low on gas. My smartphone based GPS should have automatically rerouted me to the nearest, cheapest gas station. It should have been seamless, but it wasn’t.

The seamless world is coming. Big data, the internet of things and automation will fuse to make it happen.

Big Data

Pretty soon, we will know nearly everything about everything. Every device is studded with a ton of sensors, and those sensors are capturing a huge amount of data. All we really need to do (as if that’s as easy as pie) is to mine that data for patterns. For example, right now, apps like Now can predict when you will be travelling, and present relevant information. But they only do some light data mining – such as your calendar and maybe past trips to specific locations. Every smartphone is loaded with sensors, and like we only use a tiny portion of our brains, we are only using a tiny portion of the sensors out there. We need to build engines which can predict our patterns and then use those predictions to develop recipes to make our lives easier.

Sure, there are privacy issues to deal with, but I think we’ve seen that recently, time and time again, people are willing to give up some of their privacy, as long as they are getting a useful service in return. Privacy for utility, as Scoble puts it.

The Internet of Things

All of this data is not just coming from smart things, like our phones, but dumb things, like wearables, beacons and other Bluetooth Low Energy (BLEtags and stickers. These dumb things can report all sorts of interesting information back to our smart things, and those smart things can then report those things back to the cloud, and then those prediction engines can tell us even more. At some point, fairly soon, you will be able to scatter a grid of these beacons wherever you like, and those things can report all sorts of interesting data to the engine. Like the way you move around in a store. Or track the products you pick up, put down or carry with you. Or automatically send (and pay for) your Starbucks order to the barista before you walk into the shop.

Automation

The final piece of a seamless world is automation. All of the above is great, but those systems still, to this day, always ask for permission from you before they do things.  Imagine something like IFTTT for everything you do – not just on the web. In my example above, big data and the internet of things determine that I need gas. When it asks me “do you want to get gas now?” it could also ask “do this automatically from now on”. If you say yes, it will create and save a “recipe“, so that when the same situation occurs, it will automatically perform the action. Imagine that now, all of these little decisions that you had to make are automatically taken care of for you. And if you ever change your mind, there will be an app to let you delete or revise the recipe.

What’s Next?

Have you had a chance to think about this world? It’s coming along faster than you think. Google announced consumer sales of Google Glass, another device which can help track anything and everything. Wearables are going stronger than ever, contributing more and more things to the internet of things, and more big data to chew on. Kickstarter had a huge quarter, mostly on hardware startups and internet of things products. All of this is coming together, and it’s probably past time to start thinking about it.

What is your wearables strategy? How can you use beacons and other BLE devices in order to improve your customer’s experiences and your bottom line? Will you be stuck in the past while the rest of the world goes seamless?

I don’t know about you, but I prefer working with companies who can make my life easier. Will you be one of them?

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Is Innovation Second Fiddle In Your Organization?

KYLE MAY / FLICKR

KYLE MAY / FLICKR

Stop for a second and think about innovation at your company. Look around you. Where is your focus? What’s your top-of-mind? Is your focus on developing the next set of products which will blow away not only your competitors current and future products, but will also leapfrog your own? If not, my guess is that innovation is playing second fiddle at your company.

To all of those detractors who feel that innovation is not that important, that R&D and new product development are just “nice to haves” that are awesome in good times but just a real drag in lean, I just have to say: you are wrong. If you are doing it right, innovation is the reason why your employees love doing what they do, and they stay with you instead of taking their ideas to their own startup or somewhere else. It’s the reason why your customers love you and can’t wait for the next thing you ship. It’s the thing that, despite what the detractors say about a company like Apple (myself included) keeps people buying, talking, blogging and gushing profusely about their products.

When innovation becomes second fiddle, and you cut people and whole departments who are focused in these areas, you cut off the life support to your companies future. Do you really think that your customers, fan and followers will be happy with minor incremental improvements and innovations, while your competitors take great strides forward, slowly eating away at your current customer base?

There are plenty of examples of this: look at Gmail vs Yahoo! Mail. For the longest time, Yahoo! Mail was the undisputed king of webmail (along with Hotmail of course). Not only did they have that, they pretty much owned what was called at the time “the home page of the internet” – Yahoo! was most people’s first window onto the internet. In addition, they had the users, tons of data on 300 million plus users. But then Google came along and, without any of those, slowly but surely took them all away, simply by innovating when Yahoo! didn’t.

Their strategy for capturing users started with Gmail: provide a faster, more useful, better experience, without giant ads to slow you down. And how did Yahoo! respond? Did they improve their experience in order to keep their customers? Did they anticipate that Google was going to do what they did by continuously improving and innovating the email experience? If they’d continuously innovated email in the first place, then maybe most of the internet wouldn’t have jumped ship to Gmail. And now that Gmail is probably as slow as Yahoo! Mail, do you think anyone it going back? A yahoo.com address is nearly as bad as an aol.com address. Why? Innovation played second fiddle.

I’ve said before: innovation is your future. It’s your corporate strategy. It’s what should be keeping your C-suite up at night. It’s not just a nice to have – it’s your future state. Those companies without continuous innovation as top of mind will continue to survive. Those that don’t, wont.

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Your Innovators Need TLC

hlbOne of the most interesting things I came across in creating and running innovation programs and brainstorming sessions at my clients was the disconnect on suggested rewards programs between senior management and inventors.

Typically, we started off with senior management, attempting to nail down goals and direction. Invariably, during these sessions, the topic of rewarding inventors would come up, and most of the time they were fairly generous in there rewards, assuming that a huge monetary reward would generate the best new ideas. These ranged from flat monetary rewards for generating ideas, all the way to percentages of revenues if the idea was implemented for the inventor or inventors. While these are great, it’s not the best way to get the best ideas.

In meeting with inventors however, their needs were very different. In fact, most inventors that I have worked with considered recognition for their ideas as equal to or in many cases more important than monetary awards. They preferred that their ideas were heard, lauded internally if they were good, and ideally actually built. In most cases, even if the idea was built out and resulted in increased revenues, the inventor was happy with seeing their invention brought to life over being rewarded for it. Of course, they’d love the monetary award (who wouldn’t) but it wasn’t the driving factor for them to come up with and share the idea internally.

The speaks to the need to develop an internal invention eco-system which fosters generating ideas, reviewing and rating ideas, providing useful and timely feedback to inventors, and generally taking care of the people who are generating the ideas. You need a safe place for them to put the idea, and the assurance and follow through (this is VERY important) that the idea will at least be heard and vetted. Even if you decide not to move forward with an idea, at the very least you will need to inform the inventor the reasons why in a timely manner. The worst possible thing to can do to shut down innovation at your company is to stop communicating with your inventors. Once they sense that their ideas are going into a “black hole”, they shut up as well.

It takes work to create and maintain a healthy inventor eco-system, but without it, innovation is dead. As I’ve said before:

Your innovation program is your child. It is your future. It is the future of your company. If it isn’t, then your company has no future..

The moral: Take care of your inventors, and innovation will continue to flow. And your company will fluorish and grow.

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5 Reasons I Didn’t Connect With You On LinkedIn

linkedinI might not be as famous as Robert Scoble or Pete Cashmore but I do get my share of LinkedIn requests and one should, as with most social networks, be a little discerning about who you connect with. Maybe its not as important on Twitter or Facebook, but on LinkedIn, I think your circles definitely make a big difference. As such, there are some red flags which I use to determine pretty quickly (at last count I get over 50 requests to connect a day) in order to determine whether or not I’ll agree to connect with you. If that sounds imperious, so be it. We should all be discerning with our connections, don’t you agree? Maybe this kind of thinking is controversial and exclusive. You tell me. Even though some of the stuff below is pretty basic, I still get it.

  1. A photo. C’mon people. It’s 2014, and pretty much EVERY phone has a camera in it. I still get requests from people with no picture. Why is that? My immediate thought is: what are they hiding? Why don’t they have a picture there? Are they too new? If you ask me – no one should bother – and maybe even LinkedIn should make this a requirements – that you can’t initiate any connections unless you have a profile picture uploaded.
  2. A crappy photo. Your photo should be a more or less professional shot with just you in the picture. Pictures with your significant other are awesome for Facebook  – I share my Facebook pic with my wife so we have the same picture. Plus, please make it a portrait close up of your face! I see all these pictures where people are standing in a room or something and I can barely see you. Plenty of times when I go to meet people who I’ve never met before I check out their LinkedIn profile so I know what they look like. I’ll bet I’m not the only one. If someone is late to a meeting with you, it may be that they couldn’t recognize you from your LinkedIn profile. Again, an easy fix, or seriously, get a professional portrait done. If you live in the Bay Area, my wife is an awesome photographer and can do your pic for you. Just email me and we’ll set something up for you.
  3. A practically empty bio. Please people. Maybe this should be a more blanket statement “Before you try to connect with anyone on LinkedIn, make your profile as complete as possible” Yes, that means spending time getting a great photo done, completing all of your job history, all of your education, everything you do, then working backwards to write yourself a killer bio.
  4. Your title is “Sales” or “Business Development”. I know why you’re connecting with me, dude. You want to sell me something. I get that. And I don’t blanket not connect with you just because you’re in sales. It really depends on your whole picture, your whole bio, everything that you represent. If you’ve don’e something cool in your past or currently, I’ll connect with you. But don’t just try and pitch me right away. Build the relationship first. Then, maybe, if you’re stuff if great, I’ll buy from you and or refer you to someone else. But you have to have more than a one line bio and a title and no picture.
  5. For a bonus point: put your email address at the bottom of your bio. It makes it easier for me to ask you why you are interested in connecting with me BEFORE I do it.

So think before you connect:

  1. Does my pic look awesome? Would someone recognize me from it?
  2. Is my bio the best it can be?
  3. Is my profile complete?
  4. Is my email address in my bio?
  5. And finally :  put yourself in my shoes, if you were me, would I connect with you?

 

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These Wearables Are Shocking

At the Glazed conference a few months ago, we were all told that the lifespan of the use of wearable devices was much, much shorter than say the lifespan of use of our smartphones. I think speaker after speaker mentioned something like 90 days to 9 months, then our wearables sit in a box, unused. (Personally, I’ve worn my Fitbit Flex everyday since I bought it, gave and take a few days for charging, swimming etc). Of course, I think they were talking more fitness wearables, I think maybe the sex wearables might have more staying power.

What is the issue here? Simple, if you ask me. People are discarding their fitness wearables because they are not getting the results they wanted. Notable authors, such as Tim Ferris (The 4 Hour Body) and others have noted that simply tracking things like your weight and steps and calories with regularity will help you take off the weight.

My wife and I have been doing it from the beginning but it hasn’t made any difference. I’ll bet that most of those discarders are feeling the same way – this isn’t working.

If you ask me, the wearable itself is not the problem, its the ecosystem around it – just isn’t doing enough to motivate behavior change. That area is ripe for invention – and if you want negative reinforcement, then my startup The Ultivator, fits that bill, and is a bit less shocking.

Of course, that’s not stopping startups from changing that game.

This seems interesting – and rife for all sorts of issues – imagine driving along and Pavlok shocks you, causing an accident. Might be a good idea as a last resort, but my sense is that people would just get used to the shock.

Maneesh Sethi, noted ‘hack’ author, is looking to change that with Pavlok, a wearable designed to improve user habits through shock therapy. Using negative reinforcement to alter behaviour patterns, Pavlok appears quite versitile in its ability to mess with your psychology. Hit the snooze button too many times? Zap. Ignoring your daily fitness goal? Zap.

via Pavlok wants to shock you into a better life | MobileSyrup.com.

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3 Ways To Kill Innovation

KILL MONDAY / BERNAT CASERO

KILL MONDAY / BERNAT CASERO

In order for a culture of innovation to thrive at your company, you need to do much than simply say that you are innovative or that you support innovation. Innovation can be in all of your talk, but it needs to be in your walk otherwise it will walk out of that door. Here are three ways to ensure that innovation will never flourish at your company:

  1. Talk about it incessantly, but do nothing about it: There are many, many companies in this space – they talk the talk but when it comes to walking the walk, there is no way for employees to innovate. The most common mistake is saying something like “everyone innovates” or “if you have an innovative idea, talk to your manager” – first of all, not everyone wants to innovate – some people are simply not born inventors – they are either not interested in innovating or they truly can’t come up with great ideas. Yes there are people like that. but for those others you need to provide a way for them to reveal their innovations: and just doing it to their managers is usually not enough. Or its possible that they may worry about what their manager may say if they were to reveal their innovation. So it’s important to have an outlet for innovation, outside of talking to a direct manager.
  2. Have employees reveal their ideas, but pay lip service to doing something about it. It’s great that you have an obvious innovation program which extracts interesting and innovative ideas from your employees, but if after these ideas are surfaced, nothing happens to them, then your employees will, after the initial surge of ideas, start to clam up – and they will keep their ideas to themselves and/or eventually leave to implement them elsewhere. In addition to doing something about the ideas – process them in some way – there needs to be open and honest communications about the ideas.
  3. Take care of your inventors: those people who are generating those amazing ideas which could propel your company into a new space with huge new revenues, or protect it against your current and future competition, need some loving care. Talk to your inventors, reward your inventors (it doesn’t even have to be monetary, in my experience, simple corporate or department wide recognition for your ideas may be good enough) but at the very least, make sure that even if you don’t move on their ideas, tell them why. Don”t just leave them hanging, thinking that their ideas just fell into some black hole.

It all comes down to having a process in place that not only extracts and sorts the ideas, but also fosters open and honest communication with your inventors. Additionally, they need rewards for their efforts – and feedback that they are on the right track, you value their contributions, and you would love to hear more.

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What’s Your Least Popular?

thumbsdown
Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a little experiment with the long tail – whenever I go to a restaurant or a bar or any place where you can order something, I try to ask the opposite of what everyone else is asking, which is usually “what’s your most popular dish/drink etc” . I ask “What’s your LEAST popular item?”

Wherever I’ve asked that question, I usually get a surprised look – sometimes bemusement from anyone else around – but most of the time they can easily tell me what people don’r order. At one place I had an interesting “hot salad” concoction, it was a salad on a sizzling fajita plate, with a piece of steak on top, sliced up. It was good, but I don’t think the chef knew what they were trying to do when he/she came up with that one. Since then I’ve had some interesting cocktails, some pretty good wines, nothing horrible. In fact, some of it was pretty damn good. At one place where they had a huge number of artisan beers, the woman at the bar got all flustered when I asked that question and said “everyone likes something” and “everything is good”. Like right. She was, of course, confusing “popular” with “good”. Like most people.

On the internet, whenever you look for anything, you used to be able to get to the tail of stuff, now all of that good stuff in the tail is so hidden by what the supposedly non-evil Google, Facebook, eBay, Amazon & Apple want you to see, whether you have to pay for it or not, that no one ever gets to see it.

I think we have to think about the whole concept of popularity and how it affects most everything we do. We seem to think that popularity is some kind of god that we need to constantly praise, when the stuff that’s less popular can’t possibly be that good because its not popular. So we constantly and consistently strive for that. However, on the internet, as in real life, the best stuff is not the most popular. We have to stop praying to the god of popularity, and start praying to the god of great.

Most algos out there really leverage the crowd, some for practical reasons, since the sheer volume of data that needs to be sorted through requires some kind of curation, but I think that those algos put too much weight on the crowd, biases and all. There are some new studies which help to strip those out, and I’m happy to see that those things are changing, but we are still nowhere near where we need to be.

Maybe its my own thinking, but popularity rarely equals quality (do you remember the old political story from ancient Athens – there was a rally in the square where two politicians were giving a speech on why they should be mayor of Athens, some guy got there late and asked another who he was voting for and he said candidate X. When the late guy asked why, was it his stance on issue 1, 2 or 3? The first guy said “I like this haircut” – wisdom of the crowd, (In my best Wayne Campbell: Wayne’s World : “cha right” ). Of course the opposite, having a select few elite determine the outcome is just as bad, or worse.

There has to be some middle ground. There has to be some combination of factors that we can use – especially with all of this big data that we are collecting, which can make this much better. But until we get the will – either by us using other sites to search – anything but Google, Bing or Yahoo! – or those sites doing something about greatly improving their algo by pulling the long tail of great stuff back up to the top, then there is very little we can do, except for simply going to those middle ground and later pages ourselves. Of course this takes time and work, but isn’t it worth it – to get to the good stuff.

I was on a call the other day and someone mentioned that Google et al had transitioned from being search engines to being “decision engines” – that people didn’t even bother doing anything but just going along with Google’s suggestions of results. They’d completely pushed the responsibility for the decision to Google. If you ask me, that’s sad. We can’t let these companies make their decisions for us.

The next time you search for anything, go below the fold, go to page 10, see whats there. Be more discerning about what you are looking at. Understand that the first things so see are not there because they are the most relevant to YOU, they are the most relevant to Google, Bing or Yahoo! Not you. Sometimes they might SEEM to be relevant to you, but always through the filter of what Google wants to show you…

Try it offline too – I don’t want to be the only guy out there asking for the “least popular” item. Maybe I can create a whole new movement of people who actively seek out the long tail of experience – that purposely eschew the crowd and go their own way. Can’t be too big though, as that would be its own crowd.

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SCROLL DOWN TO SEE MORE…

Above-the-fold

You aren’t seeing this text when you first come to this site. Even though this is a blog post and arguably the TEXT of the blog post is the most important thing you aren’t seeing it. You are probably either seeing a giant graphic, or a slider or something. You aren’t seeing the text. We are now in a below-the-fold-world – everything is SCROLL DOWN TO SEE MORE….

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(BTW, clicking on the arrow above does nothing, but will that stop you?)

I’ve been reviewing a tonload of WordPress themes and other various designs lately for a number of different reasons and I’ve been struck by a strange feeling. I’ve been looking a websites, for oh maybe 20 years now and have seen them go from HTML 1.0 (remember that awesome grey background that they all had back at the beginning – you don’t do you?) to what we have today and obviously things have changed for the better.

Whether its a simple landing page type site or a fully interactive web app, its extremely important to get design and usability right: simply looking at a companies website could make the difference between a sale and a no sale. For some really small businesses, no site is better than a crappy site.

Here’s the brunt of my strange feeling: I remember when I worked for a web design firm from 1999 to 2003 called OnlineFocus (now defunct – they had the audacity to let all their salespeople go one day figuring that they didn’t really need to have any more clients than they already had). It was a great experience – we had real designers and UX people on staff and built some awesome sites for companies like FedEx and Sun Microsystems.

I’m not a designer but I hang out with them sometimes (a lot more often back then) and listen to them talk about design and usually agree most of the time – as a tech guy I’m usually more interesting in making sure that stuff works but I can concede that stuff looking good as now equally as important as it working. One of the key things I do remember from those days is the importance of the most important stuff on the web page being above the fold, an old newspaper term which meant just that – when you fold a newspaper (you remember those things only your grandparents used to read, right?) it was stuff that was above the fold (duh!) which typically was the most important stuff. The headline, the photo (used to be small but it now huge – I wonder when we’ll do away with text altogether) all the important stuff is above the fold.

It was that way for the web as well. For a very, very long time. From the beginning until oh, I don’t know, maybe around now, there was a very strong design direction from every web designer I know to put the

SCROLL DOWN TO SEE MORE

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…most important stuff above the fold. (see what I mean, isn’t that dumb). But as I go through design after design, all I see are these giant splash images, and you have to SCROLL DOWN TO SEE MORE.

Is this just me being an angry old man? Or are you as annoyed about this as me? When I was looking for a new theme for this blog, it took me forever to find one I liked, and even this one has a big ass slider! Someone please tell me that I’m not the only one whose sick of SCROLLING DOWN TO SEE MORE…

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One Tip To Get To Inbox Zero

inbox-largeNormally, I don’t talk productivity tips here on thinkfuture, but this time I felt that I had to share my “one crazy tip” for getting yourself down to “inbox zero”

Now, we all know what that is, right? That state of bliss that you can only achieve by having ZERO unread messages in all of your in-boxes. (Actually, that’s not even the TRUE Inbox Zero. True Inbox Zero is actually having ZERO messages in all of your inboxes. I know – unthinkable! But it can be done.)

So, whether you are attempting the lazy inbox zero (no unread messages) or the true inbox zero, there is one quick “crazy” tip that will get you there. It’s so simple, you’ll probably face palm once you hear it.

Stop using webmail. Yes, you heard right: stop using webmail. There is no single webmail implementation which can take you to inbox zero. They are simply not designed to do that.

Lately, I’ve been reading Essentialism (great book, BTW) and one point stands out from all of the rest of the great points in this book: that most everything is NOISE. That most things are UNIMPORTANT, and they don’t deserve your time, at all.

In that vein, how does your typical webmail implementation determine what is important? By your frequency of communication, your specified people etc. It tries to figure it out, but fails miserably because it simply does not work on the premise that most things are noise and unimportant. So it shows you page after page of email, and you never get ahead of it. You need a solution where you can dispatch huge reams of email very, very quickly, and there is no way to do that in modern webmail. But there are other ways – ways we may have forgotten: the good old, reliable email client.

Eudora, Thunderbird, eMclientOutlook and many others have been around for a while. But we’ve stopped using them as our default mail handlers because of the ease of accessing Gmail or Yahoo! Mail or whatever wherever we are. But as we starting using those web based email handlers, we got further and further from being able to wrangle ourselves back to inbox zero.

How do you get back there? Simple. Just find your favorite offline email client app, and have it download your email. It may take a while, but imagine the satisfaction of bulk deleting all that email from that annoying former client (sort by sender and delete) or newsletter that you unsubscribed from but never read the 1000′s of emails from, now stale.

You can get to Inbox Zero. You just can’t do it in web mail. You need to be able to wipe out things in bulk. And for that – you need a desktop client.

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Online Reputation: Hot Or Not?

A few years ago, I envisioned an online reputation service like this one – thinking that at some point, for some people, anonymity would be less and less important. That being a known quantity, being someone with an excellent reputation, would have to extend to one’s online presence.

The idea was that someone like an eBay seller, or a sole proprietor retailer would want to maintain a stellar online reputation in order to gain more sales – it would start as an extension of your eBay ratings, be decoupled and platformized so that others could write to it. More of a reputation platform.

Of course, since then, we’ve had a raft of services which thrive on anonymity, and it almost seemed like for a while that we were swinging in the opposite direction. Well, at least the hot, fundable and press worthy stuff was swinging that way.

But I think that there is a real need for a real identity service on the internet. In fact, the lack of a solid, dependable identity platform may be something that is holding back a lot of interesting innovation – I mean imagine all of the interesting products and services which we could provide if we just knew that someone was who they really are?

One of the most interesting ideas we were kicking around a few months ago was something like a Glassdoor, but for your future boss or client. For example, when you interview with someone and are thinking of taking that job, how do you know that the guy isn’t a slave driver who forces you to work long hours and through weekends? Or for freelancers, is that potential client really a good guy – or is he a jerk who is going to stiff you?

This is not an easy problem – in my view, (and Yelp is a good example of this) you only get feedback from two camps, the haters who want to take you down, a much, much smaller group of people who had an over-the-top-awesome experience. There is a whole bunch of people in between who might have had a good experience but can’t be bothered to rate it. This becomes even more interesting when you are talking about individual’s reputations as opposed to businesses. I’m sure that there is some magic crowd/cloud combination that works, we just haven’t figured it out yet – my sense is that it will require some kind of big data approach, with a little crowd flavoring.

Hope these guys get some traction, since I think this space will be heating up quickly…

Traity, an alumni of Europe’s Seedcamp and Silicon Valley’s 500 Startups, has big ambitions. It wants to become the standard for online reputation, an opportunity surely missed by eBay’s reluctance to make its reputation scores transportable back in the Dot Com days. Today the Spain, Madrid-based company is announcing a $4.7 million series A round led by Active Venture Partners to help fuel that mission.

via Online Reputation Startup Traity Raises $4.7M | TechCrunch.

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