Perhaps I’m missing something.

English: The Tesla Roadster is the only all-el...

With regard to the issues being argued around Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model and the legality of such – while the concerns of auto dealers (profitability, sales guidance, and service facilities for customers) have merit, the lower maintenance architecture of all-electric vehicles do give rise to the need for new “thinking” in terms of the models that manage and regulate the related activities and processes.  The point of this post though is NOT to argue those merits, but to suggest what seems a relatively straightforward solution for Tesla.

 

State laws at issue appear to prohibit the sale through other than an independent intermediary. It is not unusual for companies to have exclusive contractual arrangements which also include many other stipulations.  In that regard, would it not be a reasonable solution for the “galleries” through which it displays and facilitates remote-purchase of its vehicles to be independent, to have territorially exclusive ability to non-electronically “show” the product, in exchange for being bound to strict operating requirements.  And included in such contract could be the payment by Tesla of the operating costs they would otherwise spend on the Galleries had they been owned by Tesla – protected by the operating requirements (which may be subject to revision yada yada yada).Electric discharge showing the lightning-like ...

 

Perhaps this is too naive as an outsider perspective, but in essence, the facilities would be light-weight and lean virtual art galleries with physical examples as well.   Disruption is sometimes mostly in mindset.  In looking at the requirements (on the Motor Vehicles pages of a few states – for example NJ or VA) there are specific requrements, but they do not seem insurmountable (NJ requires TWO vehicles) relative to what may already be in place in an existing Tesla Gallery.

 

 

 

 

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Bicycle stand

Bicycle stand (Photo credit: Superburschi)

Having spent much of the last year focused on  startup work, analysis, and angel investing, I wanted to briefly outline a focal point of the efficiency technology segment that I gravitate toward.  In particular, the most interesting opportunities revolve around existing activities that contain friction and inefficiency, and where the markets and providers seem comfortably numb –  and where entrepreneurs with a blend of critical and strategic thinking have seen beyond existing models and methods.

By evaluating issues facing each of an engagement’s constituencies, and re-thinking the engagement mechanisms of the activities involved, revisions for reducing or eliminating friction can be made to the processes so as to also elicit valuable inputs from participants, unlock additional value — even for bystanders, and/or open doors for new constituents.  Entrepreneurs and companies who are doing this with a vision for what lies beyond initial disruption are the ones that really pique my interest.

A great example lies in one of my earliest individual angel investments (outside of the Soundboard Angel Fund that I am involved with — which also subsequently invested). The company is Social Bicycles  (a.k.a. SoBi), led by Ryan Rzepecki.  Their focus at this point is in the bikeshare space, which is generally outlined pretty well in this article.   Some of the key issues around bikeshares (beyond those for the operator, such as reliability/repair/maintenance, loss of bikes, and fleet management and flexibility) tend to involve: ability for users to locate bike availability where they want it, and importantly, knowledge that there is space at their destination station to receive their bike.  This is due in large part to bikeshares generally being “station” based.

 

Citi Bike Share

Citi Bike Share (Photo credit: ccho)

Such station-based systems have their “smarts” in the kiosk and rack assemblies that hold the bikes.  Once you take a bike from such a system, you’re on your own until you bring it back into the system by parking it in another of the system’s smart racks.  Obviously, the destination rack won’t always be at the exact location you’d like to go to, and when you arrive at the one closest to your destination, it may well be full — meaning you have to find another of the system’s racks in order to park/return it.  Chances are, particularly if you’re using the bike for commuting purposes, you don’t have a lot of time to hunt for a parking space, nor do you have the flexibility to show up late because you were doing so.

 

In contrast, (and not to oversimplify all that Ryan and Social Bicycles have done), SoBi has shifted the smarts and locks, from residing within the rack system to the bikes themselves, integrating GPS into the bikes, and using the cloud for procurement — and in so doing, they’ve evolved bikesharing to an un-tethered state.

Image representing Social Bicycles as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

Ring and post bicycle stands in Toronto, Canada

Bike stands, Toronto, Can (Wikipedia)

This means you can pull out your smartphone and find the bike closest to you, reserve it before you get there, unlock it on arrival, and take it wherever you want to go, without worrying that there might not be a space at your destination because, while they prefer you lock it to a designated regular old bike rack, in a pinch you can lock it to a tree or parking meter (local rules allowing).

With reduced infrastructure requirements, other added benefits of this revised approach include significantly lowering the cost of entry, not to mention lowering the hurdle for any necessary approvals.  The cost per bike is about a fifth that of a station-based scenario, and can be eased into and adjusted relatively flexibly in response to what is learned in regards to demand and patterns through operation.

There are many other details to this particular system, and there are many other realms to which this approach of constituency analysis is unlocking real value.  In future posts, I plan to share more about some of the other companies I have found to be doing this good work.

(SoundBoard Angel Fund is a democratic fund, with members active in selection and analysis of companies and in ongoing relationships with its portfolio, which is primarly focused in education, consumer products and services, and efficiency technologies).

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Entity relationship diagram, essential for the...

Entity relationship diagram… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What better way is there to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to focus on relationships?  Forget about the fact that we’re talking about relationships among data.  I’m sure that’s what Eric Franzon of semanticweb.com was thinking about when he posted Chris Moran’s White Paper: The Business Value of Semantic Technology.  You’ll find his post here, with a link to the white paper itself.

 

English: RDF graph for Eric Miller provided as...

RDF graph for Eric Miller on w3c website http://www.w3.org/TR/rdf-primer/ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If your true passion is in philosophizing about data, you can dive in and enjoy.  If it isn’t, then just imagine this is dark chocolate or cake and let your imagination go.  This focuses on the form in which data is stored, and not the infrastructure nor NLP (including natural language understanding.  One key aspect of business value derives from a point made almost too subtly: “if we want to improve upon our understanding of [data], we can simply add more information. It isn’t necessary to redesign a data model.”  In other words, it is possible to improve your data by making additions without the need to re-architect the database.  Not having to re-architect saves time and money, and not being bound by coming up with structures at the outset also plays to iterating, and unshackles the development process in that regard.

Ignore for the moment any existential interpretation of Chris’ point “[t]here is, in fact, no information until the data is consumed by the application.”  The point is that data, on its own, doesn’t mean anything without definition and context – and including that right in with the data itself frees the data up from what has been preconceived as a need (and written into an application) and lets the questions be asked of it directly, with the relationships among the data being found within the data itself.

By integrating the meaning of the data within the data itself, and reducing the need for that to be handled by the application, the point is made that semantic structure reduces costs and “removes the need to maintain a staff whose purpose is simply to “keep the silo operating”.”  Still, there is great need for curation and consideration of what is meant within different silos, and management of vocabularies such that the names and terms used are the correct ones.  For business purposes, it is still important that there be consistency (within intent) in order to be useful/valuable information.

His bottom line: “The value of semantics is in… a reduction in complexity, a reduction in operating cost, a reduction in the sheer amount of storage and computing capacity, a better use of talent, and a leap forward in our ability to further automate what we do.”

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The Newegg.com logo.

Newegg.com from Wikipedia

Remember 1984 and the launch of CompuServe Mall?  Well here’s something you can still get from it: Freedom!

Here’s a great writeup of how Newegg cracked the shell on this patent boondoggle that has been siphoning off millions based on “shopping cart” network sales patents US5715314 and US5909492 and this access monitoring and control patent US7272639.

In a nutshell, the fact that the same such commerce was facilitated by CompuServe Mall nearly 15 years prior to these patents means that buying/selling stuff electronically (regardless of whether it was dial-up or always-on) was “obvious” or not novel.

Wow.

 

 

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As usual, loving the interstices of this envizualization – of the disciplines of User Experience Design:

 

envizualizations.com – The Disciplines of UXD

 

 

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This is absolutely genius.

You have to watch (and listen to) it twice in order to really appreciate it.

A friend pointed me to an interesting post in the Atlantic today, called “Take My Money, Please! The Strange Case of Free Web Services“.  It makes the interesting case that “many companies don’t want to take on the obligations to the customer that come from selling a service” as a basis for their not charging for services.  This is not to say companies don’t want to provide support for their services, but rather that they don’t want to have to heed to end-user demands for features, functionality, policies…

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶...

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston (Photo credit: Chris Devers)

While avoidance of answering to end-users may well be a factor in the decision to provide services for free, I would argue that this is a manifestation of another driver, which highlights the complexity involved in today’s business models:  Offering services without charge is also a strategy for addressing the risk that another provider will undermine the hold on a user-base simply by offering a free substitute for it – where the new provider derives value from another constituent (most basically, the ad-driven model).

So, by not charging their end users for use of the service, they are in a sense pre-emptively “leveling the field” for themselves.  In so doing, they compete on what they determine to be in best satisfaction of a balance of the constituencies of the particular engagement scenario (users, advertisers, customers…).  This raises the bar for any competitors by forcing them to create a better service or a new value-model to justify engaging that user-base.

Translating value across constituencies — i.e. leveraging a user base for the knowledge derived from their traffic — is always a balance.  This can be seen, at the lowest end, in the context of freemium models where, for example, a paid user may be ad-free.  Having many masters can be a complex and conflicted existence.  Ask any publicly traded company.  Not taking payment from one constituent (end-users, in this case) allows a company to prioritize more clearly and stay truer to their mission than they might otherwise.

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IMG_0589

IMG_0589 (Photo credit: mmmmmrob)

Talis Group, long at the forefront of Semantic Web and Linked Data efforts, announced that it has decided to pull the plug on Talis Systems, with its Consulting and Linked Data platform Kasabi – and will focus just on their education arm.  Their own words echo those of many others in the space, when they noted they have “invested an incredible amount of time and effort in playing its part to help foster the vision of a web of data.”

As a result of such efforts “… many more organisations are now seeing the benefits of applying semantic web technologies to help publish, share, and create value from data.”  Their release goes on to say “… there is a limit to how much one small organisation can achieve…” and that “… the commercial realities for Linked Data technologies and skills whilst growing is still doing so at a very slow rate, too slow for us to sustain our current levels of investment.

Many are quick to assume that this is an indicator that Linked Data and Semantic Web are being relegated to the same pastures as AI, or are making other sweeping comments.  Instead, I would argue that this is more an indicator of two other things.

First, it is a commentary on the success of their evangelization — with their being somewhat a victim of their own success.  As a result of all the noodling, sharing, teaching, pushing of Talis and others who took the early risks and made early investment, the “big guys” (while saying they weren’t interested) were observing and the evolution of the space.  As such, they have made acquisitions (think Powerset, Metaweb and Siri, among others) and have openly embraced what Talis, for one, has been promoting (think schema.org).  In so doing, they have moved the game to another level.  In that regard, it is not an abandonment of the capabilities, but a business decision as to the way forward for them – as a product versus service.

Image representing Powerset as depicted in Cru...       Image representing Siri as depicted in CrunchBase       Image representing Metaweb Technologies as dep... (images from CrunchBase)

Google Flavored Knowledge Graph

Google Flavored Knowledge Graph (Photo credit: inkdroid)

Secondly, it points to the difficult and ongoing question as to where motivation lies for businesses to expose their data.  In a business context, controlling one’s data is (like it or not) power.  And APIs have been a means of opening up bits that a company deems in its interest to make available.  In the same way that Web2.0 essentially facilitated the masses having their own voice, in their own control, RDFa, GoodRelations, and schema.org are examples of that happening for businesses and their data as well (think Best Buy).   Mind you, the rendering of the Knowledge Graph on any particular subject/search demonstrates just how simple it is now (everything is relative!) to structure what you want to expose, for the consumption by others.  This begs the question: Do we need another platform?

The Semantic Web and Linked Data are not going away.  It is all just getting more usable (though there’s quite a ways to go), and the the concept of linkages does not stop at the firewall – but rather at whatever limit is set by those deciding to expose.  (Note, this can also be phrased as “the limits chosen by those who control the particular data in question” – but that introduces another discussion topic entirely, which is whose data is it anyway).

 

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Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing (Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg)

Back in college (and we’re talking about the early ’80s), I’d thought little about crashing at someone’s pad – even someone I didn’t know when backpacking around.  You meet some people you like, and you’re somewhere you’re not too familiar with – so what better way to get to know the place than hang out with some “locals” (even if they too were visitors to the place) – and take advantage of the convenience of being able to flop somewhere and leave your backpack while you’re out investigating.

Nowadays I can’t imagine doing that – and I chalk it up to aging and parenting.  Enter AirBNB. This is the peer-to-peer service you’ve heard about whereby you can rent a spot on someone’s couch for the night. Would I do this now?  Probably not – but apply that concept to using a car, and maybe I would.

That’s what Getaround is about. Need to use a car? There’s a car rental (peer-to-peer sharing) option that’s essentially a network of personally owned vehicles wired to be accessible for procurement via their smartphone app.  Think Zipcar, but in a form that lets car owners leverage the downtime of their own car.  Also in the space is Wheelz, which is similar to Getaround, but is focused on sharing within a known community (i.e. students on a campus), and now has Zipcar as an investor/partner.  Yet other geographically focused services are RelayRides and Car2Go.

Somehow I see myself more likely to be a user of the crowd-car before the crowd-couch. I guess I’m just more comfortable with the concept of peer-to-peer in this form – perhaps because I’d be awake, conscious and on my own (versus asleep and vulnerable).  Call me old fashioned – but I’m trying.

What’s next?  Renta-potty?

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google search results

google search results (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)


You say “Semoogle”, I say “Goomantics”. Two made up words; one meaning. Map the terms to one another, and associations to one can be related to the other.  Do that within the house that Google built, and you can really traverse the knowledge graph (that was MetaWeb’s Freebase).

Keyword matching is just part of what happens inside the Google machine – and more and more, sense is discerned from context – in aligning content (search results or ads) with the searcher’s intent (their meaning, in terms of identifiable entities and relationships).

Read more, from a Mashable interview with Google’s Amit Singhal [1]

[1] http://mashable.com/2012/02/13/google-knowledge-graph-change-search/

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