September 25, 2013

Book review: ‘Age of Context’ captures the pulse of new tech

Robert Scoble, co-author of “The Age of Context,” wearing Google Glass at the 2013 Startup Conference (Photo by JD Lasica).

New book, out today, identifies ‘five forces’ animating modern culture

Title: The Age of Context
Pages: 248
Publisher: CreateSpace
Release date: Sept. 5, 2013

JD LasicaEvery few years someone comes along and pulls the camera back to reveal a wider view of the technological changes coursing through the business world and larger culture. Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have done just that with their new book, “The Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy” (paperback, self-published).

The authors nicely contextualize what they call the “five forces” in what amounts to a technology megatrend: mobile, sensor devices, social media, big data and location-based technologies. These forces add up to a formidable package, one that deserves scrutiny far beyond the boundaries of greater Silicon Valley, where much of the action takes place.


The book goes on sale today on Amazon (though Amazon lists its release date as Sept. 5).

Scoble and Israel (both friends) convey their thesis – generally about the public good that will be served by the new contextual technologies, accompanied by the occasional caveat or warning – by stringing together short anecdotes about how people are adopting and adapting to this quickly emerging landscape.

Throughout the book, the authors raise provocative questions about how society should navigates an era of pervasive data: Who owns data being collected on individuals? How are the rules of privacy being reshaped, and who gets a say?

As someone who is immersed in Silicon Valley culture, I found myself nodding along more often than not, bemused by some of the bouts of optimistic boosterism and skeptical of some of the more grand claims. But that’s precisely why “The Age of Context” works: It raises the right questions and takes square aim at many of our cherished beliefs. We all have opinions about the effects that these transformations are casting on society, and you’ll have your own chance to cheer or jeer at the conclusions the authors draw. Continue reading

August 25, 2009

5 questions for the author of ‘Twitterville’


Shel Israel discusses the impact of the real-time Web on society & business

twitterville-150iJD LasicaShel Israel’s new book, Twitterville, is due to hit hit bookstores next week. (See Twitterville site, the Global Neighbourhoods blog or Amazon page.) A day after his book release party at the Hiller Aviation Museum, San Carlos, Calif., Shel took time out to answer five questions from

1In the early stages of your book research you were focusing on the conversational Web. Why did you zero in on Twitter?

Shel Israel: When you and I talked about the conversational web, I was still exploring new book possibilities. I wanted a story that was an obvious evolutionary step from Naked Conversations.

My focus narrowed and locked in April 2008, when James Buck tweeted the word “arrested” on his Blackberry as he was being taken off to possibly rot in an Egyptian jail. A day later, when he posted a second word, “freed,” I realized that something was happening on Twitter that exceeded what I originally thought was there. In another couple of weeks I started seeing a very broad story that also went quite deep. I felt passionate about it and became convinced that Twitter was about to have a very significant impact on the Conversational Web.

2At the 140 Character conference, some speakers suggested that the real-time Web was as momentous as the birth of the original Web. Do you agree? How do you see Twitter’s potential impact on culture and society?

Shel Israel: I’m not very good at “most momentous” type judgments until I can look back at an event with some historical perspective. I regard the birth of the real time web as a more recent point on a continuum that started back when our ancestors were grunting and gesturing around the cave fires telling stories about the hunt; using blood and berries to tell stories on cave walls. The birth of the web is a really big dot in that continuum. It is the moment when our communications transcended tangible spaces and allowed email and other interactive activities. How big a dot is the real time web? I think it’s huge, but we are still in nascent times. I may be optimistic, but we need to be able to look back further to see how it impacts human interactivity.

3Can you cite some best practices about how companies are using Twitter?

Shel Israel: The term “best practices” traditionally historically refers to refined, redundant, measurable activities that can become the stadard of business protocols. I think we are still in an early phase where nothing is yet a best practice, but merely a really good idea.

There’s a general consensus that social media has been a communications game changer. Most people think it is a good idea to be transparent and not deceptive; to listen at least as much as you speak; to show a human face rather than a brand image; to build reputation by being generous to a community rather than making noise and to generally tell more than you sell. Continue reading

May 29, 2009

Social media success doesn’t start with ROI

David SparkThe advertising and public relations industries have to prove their worth. They have to show that what you bought delivered a return on investment (ROI). And the demand to create more accountability for social media increases every single day. Just last month, accountability was the basis for most of the discussion at ad:tech in San Francisco (watch my interview with Scott Milener, CEO of AdRocket, in which he talks about advertisers increasing demand for performance-based advertising).

Five years ago I remember making presentations to blue chip companies about a whole host of different social media projects such as a corporate social network for customers, a video demo site, a corporate blog, and a corporate podcast. While all the presentations went very well, and my audiences were always engaged, the last question always asked was, “How much is it going to cost, and how many people are we going to reach?” While I could offer different cost options, I couldn’t guarantee an audience. And it was at that point the pitch was often sunk.
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