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September 16, 2014

Rachio Users Save 10 Million Gallons of Water Amidst Drought

California, and much of the Western United States, is in the midst of an incredible drought. But despite the dire warnings to stop wasting water, most sprinkler systems are still pretty dumb, or are just too obtuse and challenging to operate, putting homeowners on the wrong side of conservation. Rachio, which makes a smart, good-looking system you can schedule with a mobile app, just told early users, myself included, that their combined efforts saved more than 10 million gallons - more than a drop in the bucket.

Rachio's Note to Customers Today Reports 10M+ Gallons Saved

Unfortunately, in our home, we know we're higher on the end of water consumption than we'd like to be. Our three kids need baths far too often, and we do our unfair share of laundry and dishwashing. But through heightened awareness of using less water, and our own switch to Rachio, we've been able to cut down our water usage forty percent year over year, and are down 60 percent from just two years ago.

We've dropped our water consumption 60+% in 2 years, and 40% year over year.

Like our move to Sunrun for solar energy, we'll never be perfect, but we're doing better for the environment, and for our wallet. In our bimonthly statement, by switching from a dumb sprinkler system to Rachio, we've already saved more than $100. Two to three more months of savings like that, and our Rachio has paid for itself, in addition to being easier to schedule and just plain looking better.

The Rachio App In Action for a Quick Drip

If you believe this drought is going to continue, or expect that sunny days are going to greatly exceed rainy ones for the near future, there's really two major moves you could adopt to take advantage of it. First, make energy from the sun that's hitting your house anyway, and second, stop using all that water. If you must use your sprinklers, do so sparingly, and overnight, when it's more likely to have impact and not evaporate. You won't catch ours running during the day and spilling into the gutter - thanks to Rachio.

September 10, 2014

If Content is Portable, Where You Consume It Doesn't Matter

My good friend and colleague +Adam Singer lit a thought bubble with his latest rant against the dumb pipe of television, saying the formulaic, reality show centric content there is no longer palatable to generations growing up with many more choices - dominated by the on demand, everything's available alternative of the Internet. The summary, he says... is that who actually watches TV is "the old", backed by data from the Washington Post echoing the same.

The argument that the Internet is supplanting TV is one that can't be denied outright, but I believe it's the wrong discussion. What's happening is that the consumers wield incredible power in terms of deciding what they want to watch, when they want to watch it, and where they want to consume it - thanks to dramatic developments in on demand libraries like Netflix, YouTube and others, content destinations, including the smartphone, tablet, and PC, in addition to the TV, and, yes, the humble DVR, which extended the first volley from the VCR (remember those?) and timeshifted our entertainment to take place whenever we wanted it, not when it first aired.

I agree 100% with Adam that a good chunk of the content that fills TV's many channels is low quality stuff that has no redeeming educational value. Then again, the same could be said for much of the Internet and the many social networks we all participate in. Humans love turning their minds off and being entertained. I prefer to not watch reality shows and soap operas, but I do watch TV for live events, and have a list of serial dramas that I watch with my wife - in addition to late night fare like The Daily Show and Conan O'Brien.

One taking a pro-Internet vs TV stance could say, wait. You can watch The Daily Show or Conan online after they air, just like you watch them on your DVR. Sure. You could also, assuming Major League Baseball lets you, watch streaming games live on your tablet through their app. And you can now watch many of those comedies or dramas the same day or later through various network-led outlets online, or on Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, iTunes or some other place.

And at that point, I think the conversation changes. If you're watching The Daily Show online instead of on TV, you've just changed the destination screen, but are still watching the same content. If you're watching a movie on your tablet instead of on your TV, again, you're watching the same content - and the content producers are still bringing you value, whether you're watching on a 5 inch screen or a 50 inch screen.

As an individual, what I've observed in the last decade or so is that as traditional network television has taken fewer risks with their content, and tapped into a soft pudding of reality shows and 24 hour gab events, the premium cable networks are the ones that have delivered an overwhelming amount of perceived high quality content. From Breaking Bad to Dexter, Homeland, The Killing, Ray Donovan, and others, I'm spending a lot more time watching content on AMC, HBO and Showtime than I do on the stalwarts of ABC, CBS and NBC. And I'm paying them money for the privilege.

The success of shows like Breaking Bad on AMC has seemed to lead quickly to top-notch shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black skipping the TV route altogether and debuting on Netflix. Netflix marries the quality of premium channels with Internet delivery and on demand, which the new generation likes - leading to binge watching instead of scheduled consumption.

But my enjoying those shows instead of reality tripe on network TV doesn't mean the Internet has won. After all, if House of Cards were to be the exact same, only on CBS, I'd still watch it. When I'm making a decision on what to watch, I'm not selecting the show due to any loyalty to a network, a medium or a device. I'm watching it because I want to be informed or entertained. If the only way I can get live sporting events is on my television, that's where I will go. If the only way I can get House of Cards is on Netflix, that's where I will go.

I never bet against the Internet. I have long been a huge advocate of migrating from analog to digital, and bringing content on demand - all of it - to be available any time anywhere. But it's not a contest to consume on one screen instead of another - even if it makes me seem like an old fuddy duddy.

Disclosures: I work at Google, which loves the Internet, and owns YouTube.

September 04, 2014

Striving for Streams of Serendipity or Inbox Zero?

Nobody really likes spam - those unrequested commercial emails that join your email box. They interrupt you, distract you, mislead you, or maybe worse - trick you into giving up your money or personal information. And over time, most email services have been pretty good at determining just what is spam, and what's not, while we, as consumers, are getting better at refining just what content we want on all our screens, be it our email box, or our social streams.

With this experience, what we've labeled as spam now not only encompasses the obvious scam message, but practically anything that enters our view that we didn't explicitly ask for, or surprises us. Most of us living in a social media powered world have taken a lot of effort to refine our content sources, to the right sets of blogs, and the right friend groups on social networks. When we log in to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or anywhere else, we pretty much know what we're going to get.

Many of these social networks, dating back to the first blogs, are sorted chronologically, with the newest content at the top. With some effort, you can quickly scan to where you last left off, and feel complete. There's no more to read, and you can move on to the next thing. It's a permuation of the famed "In Box Zero", which says your task is complete.

But increasingly, thanks to pressure to fill streams of less active users, or to increase engagement from regular users, it's become more commonplace to push content that's not explicitly requested into user streams. This can be "Friend of a Friend" content, like we saw back in early 2008 when FriendFeed first introduced the feature, or more recently, items that your friends on Twitter have retweeted or favorited, that Google+ friends have +1'd or Facebook friends have Liked.


It's assumed the more signals given to the network about what your friends like, the more likely it is that this piece of content is also relevant to you. It's not necessarily wrong, but it's a change, unwelcome to people who like to perfectly curate their streams - while possibly exciting to those who do want to take signals from the network - believing they aren't the one perfect arbiter on whether an item is interesting or not.

In 2008, FriendFeed spoke to this change, saying, "Our goal is to make the most interesting shared items more prominent so your FriendFeed has a higher percentage of interesting stuff and active discussions." And it worked. If I believed +Paul Buchheit had high quality interactions, I could be alerted to items on the stream that he had liked. But FriendFeed also gave me the option to turn it off, and many people did.

In 2014, Twitter is a lot bigger than FriendFeed was six years ago. It's a world-recognized stream for real time communication, so their moves get a lot of attention. Every minor change in the stream is especially scrutinized. After already taking for granted the fact that retweets from friends would be sent to my stream, the occasional tweet now appears, simply because someone I follow added it to their favorites. Unsurprisingly, this experiment, which is easy to spot on their mobile app, set the tech blog debates abuzz again - trying to figure out how it worked, and whether it was good or bad.


It's widely assumed putting content in user streams benefits the service provider. Twitter should see higher engagement, higher relevance and more clicks. For the OCD "In box zero" types, these serendipitous pieces disrupt their worldview, and, unsurprisingly, those who write about tech and social media all day are more likely to be of this type than the general population.

When +Barak Hachamov and I were working on my6sense, we were more than happy to rank social streams based on your activity and implicit interests. The solution, in my view, hasn't seen an equal, even in the three plus years it's been gone from consumer's hands. We offered a stream based on relevance, with your interests playing a huge role, a toggle to view the stream chronologically, and yes, we promised occasional serendipity to deliver surprise - to get you out of a knowledge rut, which can come from seeing the same topics debated and shared by like minded thinkers.

Relevance vs Time in my6sense

What we've learned from the Web is that we tend to gravitate to people who reinforce our own views and agree with us. Debate happens, but we don't actively seek out opinions from those with opposing takes on political, religious or even sports. (I wrote about this in 2006: Blogging Bifurcation - A Web Divided) The Web, despite being especially diverse, leads to us forming cliques, with friends, with what we read, and where we choose to congregate. Our three social pillars are what I called out back in 2009: Technology, Community, Relevancy. Most of us active in social streams have bought into the technology, and crafted our community, assuming the community's thoughts are themselves relevant. And by seeing new content, we immediately question its relevance.

For the 95%+ of people who haven't put hundreds of hours into scanning their streams to never miss a post, and who haven't taken time to set up lists, form circles, or fully understand Facebook sharing settings, the serendipity of surprise is as important as what they've explicitly asked for. While those of us on the tech edges react to the surprise with shock, we should know this is something we give in exchange for participation in somebody else's stream. The only thing I'd ask is that, like FriendFeed, we always have the option to please, kindly, be able to turn something off. Then we'll all be happy.

Standard Disclosures: I work on the Google Analytics team at Google, which provides Google+. Various services from Google partner with or can be assumed to compete with products from Twitter and Facebook. Also, from 2009 to 2011, I had a consulting relationship with my6sense as part of my work with Paladin Advisors Group. Disclosures are fun.

August 19, 2014

Joining the Google Analytics Team to Help Make Data Count

Starting tomorrow, my six year old twins begin the next steps in their education, as they begin the school year in first grade. Similarly, I've made a move here at Google that I'm excited about, focused on education, advocacy, and like most good education offerings, lots of numbers and measurement.

As I approach three years at Google since joining in August 2011, I'm moving to a new role, leading the Advocacy team for Google Analytics, giving me full-time focus on one of the most fundamental and impactful products that powers the Web. From casual part-time bloggers (like me) who rely on Analytics to learn what stories gain traffic, to e-commerce analysts who want to optimize the customer flow on their website and digital marketers aiming to learn what campaigns are delivering measurable impact, Analytics is the common thread that translates data to results.

Google Analytics Tracks My Visitor Data

One of the big draws of a company like Google is exposure to smart colleagues taking on new challenges with a wide variety of applications, from wearables to mobile, social, and infrastructure. Moving between teams is encouraged, as we pick up new skills and expand our exposure to new ideas and people. At this stop, I'm joining +Justin Cutroni+Daniel Waisberg and +Adam Singer on the Advocacy team, to name a few. Teaming up with them, and Adam specifically, who I referred into the company in early 2012, should be a high quality experience with plenty of challenges as we push each other and our own expectations forward.

Speaking of Counting... This is Post #3000 on louisgray.com.

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