2009 Technology Predictions Follow-Up

Here are ten technology predictions I made at the start of 2009 over on Technology Evangelist. Did I get any right?

1. Google Docs will add Mail Merge functionality. This highly requested feature will allow more people to rely primarily on Google Docs for their office software solution. For example, organizations could build mailing lists using the web forms available within Spreadsheets, then merge to labels with Docs.

Hasn’t happened yet. The head of Google’s enterprise division has stated that 2010 will be the year where people can seriously consider dropping Microsoft Office for Google Docs, so I imagine mail merge will be among the “30-50 updates” they make to their service this coming year.

2. The Apple TV will finally be discontinued (I’m sticking with this one for another year.)

I still don’t see the attraction of this product. Apple TV 3.0 came out in November, so it’s still alive at this point.

3. FriendFeed will peak (if it hasn’t already) as people realize some content is best consumed in silos.

Friendfeed.com 2009

I’d call that a peak.

4. Tumblr will double in traffic & users as people catch on to how easy it is to find and share really interesting stuff among friends.

Tumblr.com 2009

Correct. Underestimated.

5. Amazon will release a new Kindle that actually looks and feels cool. Possibly with a multi-touch screen.

The latest releases of the Kindle offer slight improvements in design, but the biggest improvement in look and feel is the release of the Kindle for the iPhone and iPod Touch (my preferred book reading platform these days). The Kindle for the PC reportedly has multi-touch functionality for zooming. I haven’t tried it.

6. A groundbreaking Android phone will be released with awesome technology but underwhelming sales when people fail to understand what “Android” is.

Some groundbreaking Android devices have been released, including the HTC Hero (my phone of choice these days on Sprint) and the Droid on Verizon. The sales have not been underwhelming, which I credit to a sore lack of innovation from Palm and Apple. Yes, I said Apple. They’ve created one style of phone in 2.5 years.

7. A least one suicide will happen at a nursing home that fails to install digital converter boxes on their patient’s TVs in time.

Poor prediction. Too tough to prove.

8. At least one company will suffer from a self-inflicted PR disaster due to something they Twittered on their business account that was meant for their personal account.

Here are some example PR blunders involving Twitter, which are much more mundane than I anticipated. I think mistweets are common enough that it would take a major screw-up to make news at this point.

9. RSS will become an important advertising technology as it is used to feed current offers into banner ads, making banners slightly more useful in 2009 than 2008.

This has certainly gained traction. Sites including Mashable, MinnPost and The Deets are using RSS feeds and twitter syndication to power at least some of the ads on their websites.

10. Mint.com will at least double in traffic and users. They may add widgets that allow consumers to publicly share their budget goals to hold themselves accountable among their friends.

Mint.com 2009

Only up 89% year over year at this point. Only. The free service has saved me hundreds of dollars in the past year. I’m a fan.

Google’s New Android GPS Looks Phenomenal

When I heard that Google was turning GPS up a notch, I thought they’d mean they’d use Google Maps and their driving direction technology. But then I saw this dude search for a location based on something you’d find at that location. That’s a real game changer. That makes me think that searches for “navigate to breakfast burrito in Minneapolis” would come up with suggestions, which absolutely crushes current GPS navigation technology.

This solves the problem that yellow pages have never been able to solve. People are looking for products or services. But to find what they’re looking for, they need to take a step up from that to guess what stores carry the item or service they’re looking for. It’s time to stop playing games like that and just tell people what you have so they can find it.

This has a lot of potential for restaurants to drive new business if they’re interested in that sort of thing. But, to do so, they’re going to have to get away from the horrendous Flash driven websites with PDF menus and start building things Google and see and humans prefer.

MapMyRun.com vs Google My Tracks

MapMyRun will tell you how far a running route is based on the points you use to plot it. For example, my run on Sunday looked like this when I clicked my way around the route that I ran:

Map My Run Mapped Run

To mix things up, I ran Google My Tracks GPS program on my phone. I was running low on juice, so I turned off the tracking after 1/2 the run, but take a look at the difference in distance heading North:

Google My Tracks Based Run

If the GPS is accurate, I’ve been undercounting my miles by around 10%. Or, it shows that I can’t run straight. Probably a little of both.

The My Tracks program is pretty sweet. The running routes can be exported from the phone to Google Maps, Google Earth, or other mapping sites like MapMyRun in a few clicks.

Google PowerMeter Installation and First Impressions

Google announced last week that they had formed a device partnership with a company called T.E.D. to provide hardware to power their PowerMeter service. (Amazon appears to carry it as well.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the service, it’s a real-time energy monitoring service with a web-based interface, so you can see exactly how much energy (and money) your home is consuming in real time.

I ordered the http://www.theenergydetective.com/store/teds/model-5000-g.html”>TED5000-G. At the time, it cost $199.95. They sell a digital display you can stick on a counter or bookshelf with the 5000-C model for $239.95, but I planned to use the web interface so didn’t see the need for that.

It showed up in around 2 days via FedEx, although they now appear to be backordered for 3-6 weeks due to high demand from the Google partnership.


There are a couple stages to the installation process.

1. Install a set of clamps in your circuit breaker box. I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you’ve never worked with electricity before. Ask a friend for help. The most important tip I’ve heard for this step is to make sure the clamps are both facing the same direction in order to get accurate readings. Here is an excellent video explaining the install process:

2. Hook up the gateway. The gateway is a cube that plugs into an AC outlet and your ethernet router. Information gathered by the clamps is transmitted to the gateway through the home’s power grid and stored in the gateway.

3. Configure the software. T.E.D.’s software is called Footprints. It resides on the gateway and is accessed through a browser. For Windows computers, one can browser to http://TED5000 to access it. However, that address doesn’t resolve on a Mac, and whoever has ted5000.com is seeing a spike in traffic. Instead, you have to figure out the IP address of the gateway. This is undocumented, which led to some Googling, which led to this set of instructions, which didn’t happen to work for me but probably will for many of you. In my case, I ended up hooking up an old Dell, browsing to http://TED5000 to make sure I could see it, then running the following command line: ping TED5000

Which responded with the IP location of the gateway. That address allows me to see the web interface on a Mac (and iPhone).

Once found, the Footprints software asks for a few data points to improve its data. Utility costs and cost structures being the primary info, so have a power bill on hand. This will allow Footprints to calculate your real-time cost for energy.

4. Browsing from iTouch.

The Footprints website is iTouch and iPhone friendly, so you can view your energy dashboard and doubletap to zoom in on specific metrics. For example, here is my current current:

T.E.D. Footprints Interface on iTouch

5. Monitoring Changes.

The immediate feedback provided by this software is fascinating. Flipping a light switch on/off is reflected on the meter in a few seconds. So far, I’ve noticed the impact of our clothes dryer (wouldn’t want to run that thing 24/7), refrigerator when it kicks into chill mode, running computers, the additional energy needed to watch YouTube videos, and the impact of charging cell phones (looks like around 8 cents/night for my Treo).

6. Profiles.

If you have appliances that you’re particularly interested in tracking, you can set up profiles for up to 5 in Footprints. To do this, you tell Footprints that you’re going to flip on something significant, then Footprints notes the power consumption profile of that appliance. This would allow you to break out the use pattern and energy costs associated with, say, an A/C unit.

7. iGoogle Integration.

The whole point of the Google partnership, as I understand it, is to be able to push this data to Google for additional uses. This includes viewing on iGoogle, but I think the larger benefit could be trending and benchmarking reports based on shared energy data. I haven’t figured out how to do this yet. Drop a link in the comments if you happen to know a good source of information for this. Google’s documentation on this is sending me in circles. The model I purchased didn’t have the Google PowerMeter firmware installed when shipped. I downloaded that, updated the device, then went to Edit > Activate Google Powermeter. Google asks for a zip code (or other location data) which they’ll likely use to look for energy consumption patterns.

Google PowerMeter on iGoogle

Apparently, my 3 bedroom house is consuming energy at levels comparable to a 1 bedroom apartment. That won’t likely be sustainable.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve had even the slightest understanding of how my home uses energy. It’s a very cool thing.

By the way, some utilities around the country are installing power meters and providing web interfaces where utility customers can see how their energy consumption compares to others in their community. That seems like a great way to educate consumers about what they could be doing to painlessly save energy in their homes. Will Xcel Energy do this?

Update: Here is what the data looks like on Google in the Day view:

Google PowerMeter Stats

I believe those are 30 minute increments. No one is at home flipping a light switch on/off every 30 minutes. It will be interesting to figure out what that is. My prime suspect is the refrigerator.

Google Reader for Beginners

Google has a great video on how to get started with Google Reader.

I realize many of you already use this program or related programs, but many of you do not. If you’re someone who enjoys reading blogs, I think you’ll find that Google Reader makes it much easier to keep up to date with what’s being written.

Basically, you set up a free account at www.google.com/reader then type in the addresses of your favorite blogs. Once that’s done (couple minutes), add Google Reader to your favorites/bookmarks. Now, when you want to see what’s new in the world, just go to that bookmark. Google Reader will automatically collect all of the new posts from your favorite blogs into your GR account.

It will also recommend other blogs you may not already know about and make it easy to share blog posts with friends.

If you already have a Google Reader account, you can click here to add The Deets.

Ed on Minnov8 Gang Podcast

I had a chance to join the crew from the Minnov8 Gang to record a podcast this morning. We talked about a wide range of issues, including stuff I’m involved in. If you’ve ever wondered what I do when I’m not taking pictures of toilet paper, this is probably your best chance to find out. Find a link to the audio near the end of the post.

If you’re not familiar with Minnov8, it’s a local media site that covers Minnesota related tech scene including start-ups. If you know of interesting projects happening in MN, be sure to pass along what and who you know to Minnov8 so they can cover the news.

They have a blog, do a weekly podcast (click here to subscribe through iTunes), show up at almost every local tech meet-up, maintain their own blogs, and are all over Twitter. Busy guys.

Free McAfee VirusScan from CheckFree

Why would an online bill payment service be giving away from copies of antivirus software?

Because their customers computers may have been infected with a virus while using CheckFree’s website.

CheckFree explains:

Your computer may be infected if all of the following are true:

– You attempted to access online bill payment between 12:30 a.m. and 10:10 a.m. Eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, December 2, 2008, and

– You were using a computer with the Windows operating system, and

– You reached a blank screen rather than the usual bill payment screen when you attempted to navigate to online bill payment, and

– After reaching the blank screen, your computer’s virus protection program did not tell you via pop-up or other messaging that malicious software was detected and quarantined.

If all four of the conditions above are true, your computer may be infected. We have partnered with McAfee®, the world’s largest dedicated security technology company, to provide you with a complimentary copy of its VirusScan® Plus software which, when installed, will detect, block and remove any malicious software from your computer hard drive.

This feels a bit like getting antibiotics from a hooker.

Should the Government be Picking Technology Winners?

Last year, I had a chance to meet Larry Irving (click for an interview by Ben from BenCredible), the Co-Chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance and former member of the Clinton administration, at a conference about broadband internet access to the home. The hot topic at the time was providing fiber connections to every home as a way to dramatically increase broadband Internet speeds.

One thing Mr. Irving did a great job explaining was that government should not be in the game of picking which technology is the best technology to solve a problem. For example, at the start of the Clinton administration, he said people lobbied at the time for providing an ISDN line to every home in America. Clearly, that would have been a wasteful program for the government to subsidize, which is why it’s wasteful today for McCain to pick winners by subsidizing today’s technology as offered by campaign donors AT&T or Comcast.

It’s not just in Internet technology where picking winners can have bad results. Look at our current energy policies where we subsidize ethanol rather than providing incentives that let the best innovation and technology win. For example, a carbon tax that accounts for the environmental and health consequences of belching carbon into our atmosphere and air we breathe would foster innovation in technologies that are able to avoid the tax by being cleaner forms of energy.

Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve (reduced carbon emissions, increase broadband penetration, etc). Then provide incentives for the market to solve that problem.

John McCain is no technology Nostradamus. Stop trying to pick winners based on campaign donations and start letting the market work.

President Technology Platforms: McCain vs Obama

Is there any difference between the technology platform of a presidential candidate who’s admitted to not using email (McCain) and someone (Obama) who’s raised more money through small donations on the web than anyone in world history?

Maybe just a little.

Larry Lessig breaks it down now that McCain has gotten around to actually having a technology platform:

As Lessig explains, McCain sat on the Senate committee that watched America drop from 5th to 22nd in the world in broadband Internet penetration per capita. This doesn’t mean we’ve gone backwards. We’re just running like a Division III athlete competing against Olympians.

McCain is also more interested in providing incentives to large corporations than fostering competition that could lead to lower prices and better performance through innovation.

Government Accountability through Technology

One of Obama’s most significant technology positions isn’t a technology issue but a philosophical position about open government: He wants to use the web to increase government accountability by providing easily consumable and analyzable access to what your money is being spent on.

Obama wants to make it easy for people to call BS on irrational spending by providing easy access to government data while McCain is still trying to figure out how to use AOL. I don’t care if you’re on the left, right, Loony Left or Militia Right, everyone wins if they have better access to how our money is being spent. Until we have access to the facts, arguing about whether our money is being spent well or not is nearly impossible to do (unless you’re Ron Paul, who’s convinced that no money spent by the government is well spent).

This country needs better arguments. By that, I mean we have to first find common ground on where we stand through better access to government data. With that in hand, we can argue about whether our money is being spent wisely or not. And yes, that ranges from spending on social issues to the latest no-bid contract awarded to Dick Cheney’s hunting pals.

And we may find, along the way, that technological innovation happens faster when the government – such as McCain’s Senate committee that watched America slide from 5th to 22nd for broadband access – stops subsidizing top donors and starts letting the market determine who’s best.

Municipal WiFi: A Minneapolis Discussion

Geoff Daily, a Minnesota native living in DC, and Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Telecommunications as Commons for the Institute for Local Self Reliance discuss the role of municipalities in the growth of broadband with a Minneapolis perspective:

Key lines from Christopher:

“Here in St. Paul and Minneapolis they’re building a $1 billion light rail line. You could probably wire the entire metro area for that kind of money.”

“The idea that anyone is going to be excited about jumping into new responsibilities is probably fairly absurd. I sympathize with those who say, ‘I just don’t want to get involved with this.’ But, when you look at a community that 100 years ago or 70 years ago said, ‘I don’t want to get involved with this electricity stuff.’ Those communities either got involved or they disappeared.”