April 28, 2011

Will mobile tools help turn empathy into action?

D.J. Patil

JD LasicaPerhaps the most anticipated keynote at last week’s Where 2.0 conference in California’s Silicon Valley came from D.J. Patil, the former chief scientist of LinkedIn who is now chief product officer of the hot Silicon Valley startup Color, which recently raked in $41 million in venture backing.

color-appPatil gave a memorable presentation about how we’re connecting to each other in new ways using social tools. Toward the end of his talk he began pondering how we’re starting to see empathy turned into action through the power of proximity.

Color is one of the new breed of social media sharing apps that lets you share images, video and text with the public – and, this is key, not just your friends or social network but with everyone. Every photo or video you share in Color can be seen almost instantly by anyone nearby using the app, so if you’re at an event, your uploads become part of a greater visual story, with lots of points of view. (Here’s a quick video demo.) Color is like a Twitter for images.

Cool, right?

We’ve known for some time that people are increasingly willing to share social objects online with family, friends and, increasingly, the public at large. (Thank you, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.) And while the vast majority of this social sharing is done for entertainment purposes, and a small subset revolves around business or commerce, an even smaller centers on social good, causes and social justice.

You may have noticed the larger trend taking place in the social causes space over the past few years: People increasingly want to help a specific person, cause or project rather than a general cause or organization. So you see people loaning money to specific entrepreneurs on Kiva, donating to community projects on Jolkona, funding specific public classroom projects on DonorsChoose and helping out specific individuals or causes on give2gether.

Can physical location provide added context?

Until now, location hasn’t been a major part of this conversation. But perhaps that’s about to change.

In his presentation, Patil outlined a vision where physical proximity adds context to a location, leading to an increase in the level of trust and familiarity between participants, whether they’re neighbors, attendees at a wedding or eyewitnesses to an event.

“Technology should enable us to share each other’s experiences through each other’s eyes, helping us walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” he said. “That leads to empathy, which in turns spurs people to take action. It changes the paradigm.”

I sat down with Patil after his talk for a quick interview. “As you’re able to follow someone’s stream or thread and really get a sense of what’s happening with the person,” he said, “suddenly you’re able to combine proximity with his or her well being. If this person isn’t feeling well, how do I move that empathy to compassion and action? Maybe it’s bringing the person a bowl of soup or checking in on them. It can come in all sorts of forms.”

Under the current models of online interaction, he said, “there’s no easy way right now for you to say, ‘This person needs my help.’ Or, ‘How do I assist you?’ We’re all dancing around that question.”

But a new generation of social tools may begin to change that. “You can meld all these elements by using social tools,” he said. “It starts with proximity data but it goes much further. You have to be in physical proximity with people to achieve that level of bonding. We’re focused on enabling and extending those kind of close, nearby, immediate relationships.”

In other words, help thy neighbor – literally. Continue reading

April 22, 2011

Scenes from the Where 2.0 mobile conference


GroupMe, Ditto, LocalMind & some other cool apps you may not have heard of

JD LasicaIcaught a fair chunk of the Where 2.0 conference yesterday in Santa Clara, Calif., plus part of Tuesday’s sessions. I think it’s fair to say this is the best annual gathering of thought leaders in the mobile space — people from the future who beam in to bring us up to speed on where this whole mobile revolution is taking us.

Here’s my modest Flickr photo set of 14 images.

I got to spend some time with two of the rock stars of the mobile world: Di-Ann Eisnor, VP Community of the cool beat-traffic-jams app Waze, and DJ Patil (another initial guy), former chief scientist of LinkedIn and now chief product officer of the hot startup Color, which recently raked in $41 million in venture backing.

I’m always impressed by the visual eye candy at Where 2.0 and this gathering was no exception. Check out the 90-second clip above, Waze Presents: An LA Traffic Story (music), which visually represents a 24-hour time lapse of traffic congestion, accidents, police activity and more in Los Angeles, based on the automatic GPS tracking in the Waze app as well as reports by Waze members. Fun!

Some other highlights from Where 2.0

Serendipity panel
Alexa Andrzejewski of Foodspotting, Jyri Engestrom of Ditto, Di-Ann Eisnor of Waze.

I didn’t get to all the sessions I wanted to, but here are a few other highlights and takeaways:

• Good to meet the folks behind SeeClickFix, a site that lets people report community problems to local government, and one that I’ve admired for some time.

“We’re getting to the point (where) almost everything can have a unique identifier associated with it — things, people, even plants and animals. Then the whole conversation changes.”
— Jyri Engeström, Ditto

• My favorite new toy: the GroupMe app, a group messaging service for ad hoc groups of friends, family, co-workers, college buddies. Says co-founder Steve Martocci: “It’s like a it’s like a reply all chat room on your phone. … This is a very intimate tool that’ll buzz everyone’s pocket.” Yowza!

• 40 percent of ratings on Yelp is coming in through mobile devices. Yelp now has 50 million unique visits per month in eight countries.

• One out of every 10 Israelis (not just drivers) uses Waze.

Localmind is a new service that allows you to send questions and receive answers about what is going on — right now — at places you care about. If it scales, this would be an awesome service.

• Loved this quote from Jyri Engeström of Ditto (just downloaded the app: “Looking to hang out? Find out what your friends are up to, have a conversation, or get a group together. Ditto makes it easy to get recommendations about restaurants, movies and things to do.”):

“A lot of the conversation that goes on at conferences like Where 2.0 is based on the assumption that we’re talking about places and buildings. But the resolution of social objects is getting higher and higher so we’re getting to the things scale and person scale, with almost everything being able to have a unique identifier associated with it — even plants and animals. Then the whole conversation changes.”

• Raffi Krikorian of Twitter: “People want to say ‘I’m in Vegas, baby!’ without giving away their exact location.” His hourlong talk about the different tiers of “local” was fascinating. I was also digging terms like “geohash.” And: “The holy grail of geo-location is to use some kind of GPS triangulation.” Follow him on Twitter at @raffi.

• Jack Abraham, Director of Local at eBay: “Any product that can be digitally distributed, will be.” He noted there were 465 million active IP addresses in 2009 and that number continues to balloon. Also: ecommerce still makes up only 5 percent of all commerce in the United States. Continue reading