The Future Of Business And Marketing [And Everything]

My book review of Age of Context, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

Futuristic woman looking at The-Age-of-Context book cover.

In 1973, when I was a kid, our black-and-white TV had 3 channels. We had no computer, no mobile phone, no internet. Even VCRs didn’t show up in people’s homes before 1975.

30 years later, in 2003, VCRs were already on their way out. 2003 – that was just 10 years ago.

We had no Facebook, no Twitter, neither iPhone nor iPad [or any tablet computer]. Most households were on dial-up internet, you could forget about watching videos, and YouTube didn’t exist.

At the beginning of 2003 there was no Google AdSense, no WordPress, no Skype, no MySpace.

Presidents couldn’t win elections via Facebook, and governments weren’t toppled via Twitter.

Pause for a moment, read the last 3 paragraphs again, and get a feeling for the change that has happened in just 10 years.

We tend to make our plans and projections as if things were stable. But they’re not!

  1. A lot has happened from 2003 to 2013. Compare, if you’re old enough, to the change from 1973 to 1983. It’s a joke. It’s like we’d been living in super-slow-motion back then.
  2. Increasing speed of change is a given. That means:
  3. A lot more will happen in the next 10 years than has happened in the previous 10 years. In your life and in your business, no stone will be left unturned.

This is what the book “The Age of Context” is about.

Quote Emily Greene Balch

Book Review: The Age of Context, by Robert Scoble & Shel Israel

In July 2012 Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal started to work on their book “The Age of Context.” It’s about how previously disconnected technologies come together and bring massive change to our lives and businesses, at a pace never seen in human history.

The authors are two veteran Silicon Valley journalists, Robert in the area of technology, Shel in the area of business. It’s their 4th book together.

Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal funded the book with $ 100,000 from sponsors, so they could research current trends, interview the trend setters, and write the book as fast as possible.

“We have found over 100 developers of new contextual technologies ranging from tiny startups to some of the world’s biggest companies.

We’ve also started to uncover some amazing stories that involve contextual football fans, social networks between technicians and jet engines, geo fencing entire tourist regions and the designs of entire contextual cities.”

Don’t be put off by the geeky word “contextual.”

It’s hard to think of a more boring word than contextual, and the authors could sell twice as many books with a catchier title.

But you better get used to the word. “Context” is where all big tech companies are putting their money right now.

It means that technology tries to understand in which context you are actually using the tech.

  • Search engines try to understand in what context you are searching for a specific keyword. Depending on what Google knows about you and your current situation, you’ll get different answers for your search.
  • Mobile tech considers where you are before offering its services.
  • Apps are collecting data about you, and use the data to deliver more personalized services.

If this is still a bit abstract to you, don’t worry.

Age of Context is chock-full with exiting [or frightening] examples how your context (where, when, your social connections, info about your health, info about your interests, and much more) will be used by technology and services to design your experiences.

From a business perspective the question is: how does contextual technology change the way you get customers, you deliver our products or services, you market your business.

The changes ahead are too massive to ignore.

Quote from Marc Benioff, Foreword Age of Context.

You’re probably already overwhelmed by what’s going on today.

  • You’re supposed to engage on umpteen social media sites.
  • You’re supposed to build a customer and a prospect list, and do email marketing.
  • It’s not enough to have a web site. You also need a mobile version. And you’re supposed to add content to a gazillion content platforms, and send guest post to other blogs.
  • SEO is driving you nuts.
  • Oh, and by the way, you actually have to find time to work on your core business. That is: fulfill your products and services.

Starting from that overwhelm, the Age of Context is a double sided sword: It’s exciting to see the possibilities of things to come. At the same time it’s scary to see how much more complicated things are going to be pretty soon.

My biggest surprise with the book was how far these technologies are already developed. The book is not about things that are going to happen in 10 or 20 years. It’s about things that are happening TODAY, that you just may not have heard of yet.

The Five Forces

The main driver of rapid change is the coming together of 5 forces that we already use every day:

Mobile devices + social media + location + sensors + data.

What’s new is that these 5 forces are now connected via cloud services. And that artificial intelligence is reaching a level where these 5 forces can be combined in an automated and intelligent way that was not possible before.

This will also help you to connect with your customers in entirely new, exciting ways.

5 forces: mobile, social media, location, sensors, data.

You’re well aware how mobile devices and social media have changed our everyday lives.

When it comes to context, both provide an enormous amount of information about you, which contextual technology will use.

Your mobile knows where you are, and how fast you are moving. It knows your contacts, knows which apps you are using. It’s also where most people’s social media activity is happening.

Age-of-Context quote: More phones than people.

“Social media is essential to the new Age of Context. It is in our online conversations that we make it clear what we like, where we are and what we are looking for.”

Plus, there’s tons of other information that has been collected about you: financial information, your credit score, social security number, credit card payments, job history, and so on.

All this data is now, for the first time in history, being brought together through services talking to each other online, in real-time!

A tiny, but for businesses extremely important, piece of this data is your location. People have accepted the fact that your phone is analyzing where you are located. Lots of great services are based on this tiny piece of information.

Map services. Hotel recommendations. Faster pizza delivery.

The shocker is that it now all happens automagically and between connected devices.

In the past most information collected about us was still provided by humans.

  • By yourself on social media. In your emails. On your web site.
  • By employees from businesses, organizations, and agencies. They had to enter your data into their computers manually.

Not so in the era of sensors.

We carry with us, and are surrounded by, an arsenal of technical sensors. They are able to collect tons of information about us and automatically add it to the pile of data about us.

It’s obvious that your car and your phone have sensors to know your location.

But did you know this?

“Microsoft Kinect for Xbox … has a 3D sensor that can see your heartbeat just by looking at your skin.”

Scary, isn’t it?

Or, did you know there are pills that can sense and inform your doctor whether you have eaten them or flushed them down the toilet?

It’s not science fiction!

Quote from The Age of Context. Image mobile phone, map, compass.

Mobiles have more computing power than a PC had just a few years ago.

Actual PCs are being replaced by tablets, which are mobile, too.

Plus, we’ll soon see new types of mobile devices coming to market. For example Google Glass and computerized glasses from other companies. Or smart-watches. A few simple smart-watches are already available today.

These new technologies will mature faster than, for example, the first mobile phones did. They will also be adopted by the masses much faster.

It’s important to understand this.

Imagine, for a moment, a future where computerized glasses are used by as many people as mobiles and tablets today.

Can you imagine that?

Guess what, your entire online marketing strategy, which worked so well in 2013, just vaporized!

I don’t know if it’s the glasses who will replace smart phones. But in a few years the mobiles we use today will be replaced by something entirely different. Smaller. Smarter. Voice based.

Smartwatch and quote on wearable devices from Age of Context book.

The new technologies will change how you run your business, whatever that business might be.

They’ll also enable entirely new types of businesses, new types of payment, new services, and new products.

Too much to cover in this review!

What I’ve talked about so far merely covers the first chapter of “The Age of Context!”

I’m not giving you the whole book in this post, only highlighting a few more topics.

One of the 13 chapters, the contextual self, talks about sensor based health technology.

Fitbit and Nike Fuelband are just the tip of the iceberg. I found that chapter particularly interesting. It’s amazing to see what companies are working on to improve our health!

Quote from The Age of Context about mobile health sensors.

How People Live And Work And Do Business: The New Urbanists

Chapter 6, the new urbanists, introduces another fascinating trend.

“Cites are growing younger and more affluent, while suburbs are shrinking, aging and experiencing increases in poverty.”

A new generation is reversing the trend to migrate out of the cities. They come back into the cites, and they do so well connected with the latest technical gadgets and contextual devices.

The quote from Age of Context in the image below hints at how the urban life is completely transformed by contextual technology. And, of course, your house will be managed by contextual technology.

Your business is embedded in this changing world – and will adopt.

Quote on New Urbanists from Age of Context.

Privacy Is Futile

Several times in the book Scoble and Israel talk about privacy, including one chapter entirely devoted to privacy problems and trust issues. They review the pros and cons of contextual technology and data collection.

I’m not sure if the authors truly care so much about privacy, or if they only included the chapter to prevent a backlash. A ‘political correctness’ chapter, so to speak.

The core of the matter: Each and every piece of tech, and all the services and businesses you are using, are collecting data on you. And they don’t keep the data for themselves, they generously share it.

People could be angry of fearful about that, but for practical purposes most people don’t care. They’d close their Facebook account in a second, if privacy were truly important.

To make a long story short:

Privacy is a thing of the past!

Big data is collected and connected, and there’s nothing you and I can do about it.

Quote from Age of Context about privacy.

Implications for your business

This “unstoppable perfect storm of epic proportion” will not stop to spare your business. As the world changes, the way you do business changes.

Each of the 13 chapters shows ideas how contextual technology and the 5 forces are changing the world. Throughout the book you’ll find many examples for businesses using contextual technology.

And lots of exciting inventions: Google glass. Self driving cars. Health monitoring tatoos. Intelligent mirrors. Robotic household assistants. Self cleaning clothes.

2 chapters talk specifically about how the Age of Context changes customer experience [the new buzz word], business transactions, and marketing.

Chapter 3, the customer in context, covers a wide range of new business applications. From retail, to sports stadiums and Disney. Travel, restaurants, cabs, and more.

Chapter 11, pinpoint marketing, is about – you guessed it – using contextual tech in marketing. Will advertising soon be history? Replaced by new business models?

These 2 chapters alone are worth buying the book.

Marc Andreessen quote from The Age of Context

Should YOU buy this book?

If you’re a tech enthusiast or early adopter, you won’t need convincing. You’re probably not even reading this because you have long clicked through to Amazon to buy the book.

But what if you’re not a geek?

Is this book for you?

I say: it’s a must.

We talked about how much has changed in the previous 10 years.

  • No book would have been able to predict those changes.
  • The next 10 years will be more disruptive than the last 10 years.
  • The book is only including what we already know. It can’t even hint at the surprises.

If you have been overwhelmed by the past and present, prepare yourself for the storm that’s coming. It’s amazing, but it’s also stressful for us business owners to adopt.

Besides, the book is EASY to read, and – thanks to the many real-life-examples, very interesting. Topics change so fast, it never gets boring.

Could I find something negative to say about the book? Sure, but it doesn’t matter a bit.

What matters is the big picture. And understanding where the world you live in is headed. And “The Age of Context” delivers exactly that!

Klick the image to get it from Amazon…

Book Cover: The Age of Context, by Robert Scoble & Shel Israel