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October 17, 2014

Fitbit Launches Challenges to Push You and Friends to Go Further

The charm of Fitbit has always been more than just counting steps and seeing how far you've meandered in your day. Even more than the virtual badges you can collect for hitting new personal records, one of the most engaging pieces of this smart wearable has been informally competing with your friends for a place atop the leaderboard, learning who is the most active, and seeing just how much further you need to go to land a spot at the top.

With a new feature rolled out quietly last week, Fitbit has formalized these challenges, encouraging you to take on your friends directly.

New on Fitbit: Challenges to Take On Small Groups of Friends

Available on the mobile app for both Android and iOS, Fitbit has started with three separate challenges for you to extract steps out of your fitness social circle - namely Weekend Warrior (for the Saturday/Sunday stomper), Daily Showdown (for 24 hours of high stepping action) and the Workweek Hustle (to get you out of the cubicle Monday through Friday).

The challenges are pretty straight forward. The clock starts ticking at midnight in the time zone of the friend who proposed the challenge. Those who accept the challenge have their steps measured against other participants, and you can see microevents of who's adding on, whether people are practically tied, or if anyone has achieved their own daily personal goals.

You can also challenge people head to head and see updates.

Like any gamified app, the expectation is that a change in the virtual world will deliver a change in the real world. If my friend takes me on a one day challenge, am I more likely to sit on the couch, or go walk a few blocks to make sure I take the gold medal? And for those of us who've amassed large friend lists in Fitbit, due to non-dramatic promiscuity, the challenges act as a way to focus on specific people or a small group. In one head to head challenge, I had a friend with a planned 15k race at the end of the day, who effectively was sandbagging his activity in an attempt to finish first. Unfortunately for him, he finished just short, as my consistent walking was too strong. After all, my competitive streak doesn't have an off mode. Challenge me here. I plan to win.

October 14, 2014

What If We Redid the 2000 .Com Monopoly Edition for Today's Web?


In the year 2000, as the .com bubble was at its peak, it seemed new tech names were going to rapidly eclipse the old guard. Emails and downloads were new conversation topics, and if you weren’t still on AOL, debates would ensue over which ISP you should choose, or which search engine or portal was the best. Sun was the dot in .com and Linux seemed poised to take over the desktop. Obviously, not everything turned out that way, even if some of the names are still around, and even strong.


The 2000 .Com Monopoly Board

One of the fun collectibles that came out of this time was a .com edition of Parker Brothers’ Monopoly. Instead of properties around Atlantic City streets, you had websites. Community Chest and Chance were replaced with Email and Download cards. And you couldn’t buy property for a few hundred bucks, as everything was in the millions of dollars. Not too soon after the game came out (and of course, I still have it), the .com market was decimated, as the companies of the future weren’t built for the present. Now the game board itself looks like a relic of a short-lived era gone by.

The 2000 List of Companies and Categories


As something of a lark, and thought exercise, let’s consider who would take these 2000 era companies’ spots on the board. I’ll go first with my take on today’s cast of characters.


Dark Purple
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Sportsline.com and FoxSports
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Deadspin and ESPN.com


Commentary: Back in 2000, ESPN, as part of Disney, didn’t have a great approach at owning its web presence. It was part of the Go.com family, one reason it missed the original .com board. Now, ESPN represents sports on all media. Deadspin is an exceptional alternative with sharp commentary that is a must read for serious sports fans. (Apologies to SB Nation)


Light Blue
2000 .com Monopoly edition: GeoCities, Oxygen and iVillage
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Pinterest, SnapChat, and WhatsApp


Commentary: The 2000 edition definitely had a bent toward community. With iVillage and Oxygen, two of the three properties were focused on women. GeoCities didn’t age well and was retired. Pinterest, SnapChat and WhatsApp have become some of the fastest growing communities for pretty much all ages and both genders.


Light Purple
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Shockwave.com, Games.com and E! Online
2014 .com Monopoly edition: TMZ, Buzzfeed and Reddit


Commentary: Shockwave? Really. Let’s move on. For fun entertainment and burning hours of Web surfing, TMZ, Buzzfeed and Reddit can’t be beat. Reddit is a tough one to categorize, as it calls itself the Web’s front page, but it’s knocked off Digg, Slashdot and others for that title.


Orange
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Priceline, Expedia and eBay
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Square, PayPal and Yelp


Commentary: eBay could easily be a repeat in 2000 and 2014. Priceline and Expedia are still doing fine. But Square and PayPal are how the Web does business these days, while Yelp is often the place to go for recommendations on what to buy or where to go.


Red
2000 .com Monopoly edition: The Weather Channel, About.com and CNET
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Dropbox, Instagram and Tumblr


Commentary: About.com looks like a content farm, and while CNET’s still alive and kicking, there’s been nothing to talk about since its CBS acquisition. The Weather Channel? Please. There’s an app for that. And more than just finding content sites, anybody can create and share content globally with apps like Instagram, sites like Tumblr and share it on Dropbox. (Apologies to WordPress, Box and others)


Yellow
2000 .com Monopoly edition: eTrade, Monster.com and Marketwatch
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Wikipedia, LinkedIn and Twitter


Commentary: Monster.com and eTrade were monsters in 2000. I still use eTrade regularly, but they’re not known for their monkey-centric Super Bowl ads any more. Marketwatch is a snooze. Now, people get their financial and business data from each other via LinkedIn, in real time on Twitter, and check its veracity on Wikipedia. (Apologies to Seeking Alpha and StockTwits).


Green
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Ask Jeeves, Alta Vista and Lycos
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Microsoft, Amazon and Apple


Commentary: In 2000, Search engines took the entire final row of the Monopoly board. But the positions of Alta Vista, Lycos and Ask Jeeves weren’t strong against innovators that got stronger in the next decade. Now, diverse infrastructure plays like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple (for many reasons each) occupy this highly valuable section of the board.


Dark Blue
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Excite@Home and Yahoo!
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Google and Facebook


Commentary: That Yahoo! was the Boardwalk of 2000 is telling. Excite@Home was a $6.7 billion megamerger in 1999, but by 2001 was pretty much in steep decline. Without intending too much bias toward my current employer, Google and Facebook are the 1-2 when it comes to the Web today, from the top destinations to hours spent, tools deployed, etc - and both play a role in discovery for everyone.


Railroads/Stations
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Nokia, MCI Worldcom, Sprint and AT&T
2014 .com Monopoly edition: Verizon, Comcast, Netflix and YouTube


Commentary: Worldcom? Whoops. Nokia? Whoops. Things change, and companies don’t always adapt quickly. The megalopoly of AT&T is now most like Comcast’s ISP/cable monolith, and Verizon (including their FIOS offering) is the big carrier to be dealt with. Fighting the good fight, and using a ton of bandwidth in the process are Netflix and YouTube, which are essential media mediums on every device.


Utilities
2000 .com Monopoly edition: Linux and Sun Microsystems
2014 .com Monopoly edition: WiFi and Cloud


Commentary: We’re still waiting for the year of the Linux desktop, and Sun is now somewhere in Oracle’s beautiful campus. But while you could take a stab at a language or a platform, like Python, Ruby on Rails, or even PHP, generically its best said that the storing of data and access to that data are the true utilities of 2014. Pervasive WiFi (or 3G/4G) and Cloud power every app and every site.


Summary: The Web is dramatically larger, and more global, now than it was less than two decades ago. This admittedly English-first version of the .com Monopoly for 2014 misses out on the international communities like Baidu, AliBaba and others. There’s no place for the Uber and Lyft rivalry, and while Tumblr was included, it’s hard to put Yahoo! on the board, which probably isn’t 100% fair. I wanted to find a spot for Spotify and Hulu, but failed. I’d be ecstatic to see if Parker Brothers was up for another run at the web centric board, and you know I’d buy it.


Disclosures: I work at Google, which is a customer, partner and competitor with many of the names on this board. Putting them on a Monopoly board is not an opening for the company (or any other on the board) being a monopoly joke.

October 13, 2014

Cloud Powered Near Instant PC, Mobile Upgrades Are the New Reality

Buying a new computer or getting a new phone used to be a huge pain. Even if everything was up and running right away, you had to plan for hours, or even days, of moving all your data from the old device to the new one. And if you didn’t successfully complete the data migration, or had sufficient paranoia, you could end up with old devices cluttering your home - just in case you might need to get that old content. But with so much of our data moving from local disks to the cloud, and new operating systems improving their sync and account setup, the day of hot swapping devices is here.

As you know, for the past few years, our home has been a ChromeOS and Android family. This started well before I joined Google, and as each OS gets smarter, that move looks to have been the right one - especially when it comes to this issue.

Samsung's 2012 Chromebook Got Bumped for the 2014 HP.


Last week, thanks to a sale on Woot.com, I purchased a new HP 14 inch Chromebook for my wife. One evening, as she was using the 2012-era 11 inch Samsung Chromebook, I told her to close her eyes. I took her old laptop and put the new one in her lap, and when she signed in, she didn’t miss a beat. All her bookmarks were there, even down to the tabs she had open in her browser. With one move, and for the same $200 or so I spent two years ago, she got a faster device, double the RAM, and a larger, more vibrant screen, with no headaches around data.

There was no question of whether she had to back up photos, or copy her songs. No dragging and dropping off folders and documents. It just worked, exactly as I had expected it to. And the next morning, when she had to print to our networked printer, she just told the browser to print, and the printer was listening. No printer drivers, and not even a memory of a CD-Rom or DVD. It just worked.


Meanwhile, on mobile, the story is much the same. Whether it’s due to an accidental drop (which has happened in our home more than once), or a required factory reset thanks to trying new software before it’s ready (that’s also happened), starting over with a new phone or starting the phone over from scratch is no big deal any more either. Signing into my account brings my account information, access to my data, my apps, and my preferences.

In the storage industry, we used to talk about hot swappable units - which would enable upgrades without reboots or interruption of access to data. The dream of upgrading servers, disks, arrays or network equipment without downtime was rarely achieved, but often talked about. On the consumer side, many of us have grown accustomed to the inevitable pains that come with getting new devices or even upgrading those devices from one system version to the next, and it doesn’t have to be this way any more.

Standard Disclosures: I work at Google, the company behind ChromeOS, Android, and great tools that help you sync your content between devices. You can assume I prefer cloud-based data.

September 30, 2014

Automatic and Fitbit Data Show My Car Use Down 50% as Steps Are Up 33%

It seems fairly logical that if you walk everywhere, you're probably driving less. But even as I've been on something of a Fitbit kick since early 2012, I've reached even higher highs in the last month-plus, and increased my daily goal to 15,000 steps (from 12,000), thanks to one simple change - opting to leave my car at home each workday and benefit from one of Google's most visible perks, taking the company shuttle.

Looking at the data from Automatic, my dashboard shows I'm on pace to have set a new low for both miles driven and money spent on gas, this month, a full fifty percent below previous months. And even without the aggressive late evening walks I was orginally doing when losing my extra weight at the end of 2012, my step counts are up more than 30 percent from just a few months ago. You might think that's not worthy of a blog post, but the available data, and correlation from this simple life change is easy to document.

A new low for driving costs in September (via Automatic)

Prior to taking the shuttle, my routine was fairly simple. I'd walk the twins to school, drive to work, walk a bit to lunch and do usual scurrying from meeting to meeting, and get home well short of 10,000 steps. To hit my target of 12,000, I'd still have to head out at night and get the steps in. But now, after walking the twins to school, I head back home to get the laptop, and walk the mile plus to the nearest shuttle stop instead. I work on the shuttle until reaching campus, and by the time I'm at my desk, I've racked up 5,000 to 6,000 steps. I can easily hit 10,000 after walking to and from lunch, and by the time I head home, I'm close to 15,000 steps - good enough for reaching my higher goal. And if I want to head out, be it to walk our dogs or play with the kids or anything else, I'm just padding on, getting closer to 20,000 without too much effort.

Hitting 20k on Fitbit isn't an ordeal with a new shuttle routine.

Meanwhile, my poor car is sitting neglected. Instead of driving into work and doing battle with other Bay Area commuters, the shuttle driver is escorting me (and my colleagues) while I catch up on email, keep our social channels updated, and generally get my first 20-30 minutes of work in - while I'd probably just be listening to the radio and stuck in traffic on the old routine.

When I first got the Automatic dongle back in April, I was intrigued by it catching me going too quickly or doing other bad behaviors while on the road that might cut into my gas mileage. But with few exceptions, the occasional chirp hasn't really impacted me. If I'm on 280, I'm going to drive over 70. It's what the road was made for. And if I'm driving to an A's game in Oakland, there's no question I'll have to hit the brakes occasionally, to avoid making traffic worse. But having the accumulative dashboard is even more valuable. I'm not at the point where I'd consider getting rid of the car, and sharing my wife's minivan, but there are some weeks where I might not even start the car. Google Shopping Express handles almost all our shopping, and we can walk almost everywhere else.

Earlier this month, I hit 60k steps, a new record. Some day I'll get 100k.

Meanwhile, in Fitbit land, thanks to being pretty consistent about promoting this socially connected pedometer for the last two-plus years, I'm continuing to enjoy the daily and weekly competitions, literally around the world. +Thomas Power in London is now tweeting his daily step counts, and harrassing me if I fall behind. In something of a response, a few weeks back I made walking an all day thing, and hit a new personal best of 60,000+ steps. It just took walking on the treadmill while watching TV, and then a stroll to Mountain View after the kids were in bed. It was to prove I could do it, and put the rest of my competition in their place. No car was needed. The new goal? Some day I'll hit 100,000. I just need to get a free day from my wife, and walk around the clock.

So if you're looking for me, I won't be in the car. Find me on Fitbit instead.