An Interactive Infographic Maps The Future Of Emerging Technology

December 21, 2012

By: Patrick James
Via: Fast Company

When will you get your robot butler? When will we first set foot on Mars? These and countless other questions about the future are answered in this amazing chart of where technology is headed in the next 30 years.

Can speculation about the future of technology serve as a measuring stick for what we create today? That’s the idea behind Envisioning Technology’s massive infographic (PDF), which maps the future of emerging technologies on a loose timeline between now and 2040.

Envisioning Emerging Technology - Infographic
On it you’ll find predictions about everything from artificial intelligence and robotics to geoengineering and energy. Mouse over the entries for blurbs describing them and links to more information; you won’t find much more than a Wikipedia page explanation, but that’s plenty helpful for the uninitiated.

In 30 years, it will also be a great reference for where we thought we might end up. Did we really get interplanetary Internet in 2026? Did the Mars mission happen in 2034, or much earlier? The history of technology isn’t one so much of continued progress, but of sudden, unexpected advances. Which means that the predictions here will most likely be replaced by a reality we can’t even begin to fathom today. But it’s still an inspiring vision of the future (even if you’re scared about the robot swarms in 2031).

You can download a PDF for free, or–should you want to track our progress toward artificial photosynthesis and space-based solar power by X-ing out accomplishments on your wall–purchase a poster version here.

Mapping The Future Of Education Technology

By: Patrick James
Via: Fast Company

If it’s true that 65% of today’s grade school students will work in jobs that don’t exist yet, then we better get ready for some drastically different learning environments.

Add this massive infographic to the recent discussion of futuristic dorms and what education will look like in 2020–and beyond. Designed by Michell Zappa’s Envisioning Technology (which also created that fantastic interactive infographic mapping the future of technology), this chart maps innovations in education technology for the next few decades.

Envisioning the Future of Education Technology - Infographic
It illustrates a shift from a classroom-centered approach toward an increasingly virtual set of learning environments. Of course the most eye-popping statistic is the idea that 65% of today’s grade-school children will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet. Hence the need for looking forward to try to anticipate how technologies might evolve and how we should expect to incorporate them into our schools.

“Despite its inherently speculative nature,” the graphic’s creators write, “the driving trends behind the technologies can already be observed, meaning it’s a matter of time before these scenarios start panning out in learning environments around the world.”

A Wave of Start-Ups Helps Small Companies Outsource Their Tasks

December 19, 2012

By: Jessica Bruder
Via: The New York Times

Leah Busque (right) - founder of Task Rabbit
Small-business owners are like Swiss Army knives: expected to handle dozens of specialized tasks without falling apart. But even the sharpest entrepreneurs have it tough this time of year — inevitably, some will outsource part of their workload to other enterprising people.

CHALLENGE Your to-do list is crammed with tiny tasks. How can you delegate them cheaply?

ONE SOLUTION For $5 you could drink a large latte and work through the night. Or you could hire a minion at Fiverr, which bills itself as “the world’s largest marketplace for small services.” Starting at $5 apiece, tasks include designing business cards and letterheads, sending out handwritten cards, editing newsletters, making short commercial videos and throwing darts at a picture of your rival.

“Pretty much anything you imagine can be found on Fiverr,” said the company’s chief executive, Micha Kaufman, who set out in 2010 with Shai Wininger to build what Mr. Kaufman calls “an eBay for services.”

“It’s giving people the tools to do business with the entire world,” he added.

Fiverr, with headquarters in Tel Aviv and offices in New York and Amsterdam, has more than a million active buyers and sellers across 200 countries, Mr. Kaufman said. He would not disclose revenue or the number of sales his site has brokered so far. Fiverr has raised $20 million in financing and has 60 full-time staff members. The company collects a 20 percent commission on each sale.

THE COMPETITION Fiverr’s success has inspired an army of imitators, including Gig Me 5, Gigbucks, TenBux and Zeerk. Building and selling Fiverr copycat sites has also become a cottage industry for online software developers. Asked whether he took this as a compliment, Mr. Kaufman replied dryly, “One of my friends said, ‘It may be flattering, but it’s a very annoying way to flatter you.’ ”

CHALLENGE You want to delegate complex, highly specialized tasks, but it’s hard to find people whose expertise matches your needs.

ONE SOLUTION SkillPages connects skilled workers with those who want to hire them. The site showcases an array of specialists — beekeepers, tree surgeons, witches, clog dancers — along with professionals with more conventional business skills, like payroll administrators, social media marketers and typists.

Iain Mac Donald decided to start SkillPages after seeking a tree cutter online to do work in his yard. “This guy arrives with a huge truck, and he could have taken down a forest,” Mr. Mac Donald said. “He was going to charge me $3,000. It just wasn’t right.”

Mr. Mac Donald figured there had to be a way to help make better matches. To that end, SkillPages identifies specialists whom users’ families and friends may already know through social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Users can also view work samples online and contact members directly.

Based in Ireland, SkillPages went live in 2011 and opened an office in Palo Alto, Calif., this year. The company’s 35 employees handle traffic from more than nine million users worldwide, 1.5 million of them in North America. The company has received $18.5 million in financing, said Mr. Mac Donald, the chief executive, declining to disclose sales figures.

SkillPages’ basic services are free. To make money, it sells advertising space and offers premium memberships with stand-alone Web sites for those offering services. Next year, Mr. Mac Donald plans to offer a paid matchmaking service for talent-seeking companies. He is also building a “targeted offers” program that will let niche vendors present deals on products and services to members with relevant expertise. The vendors will pay SkillPages a bounty for each sale.

THE COMPETITION Guru, oDesk and Elance also focus on skilled work. LinkedIn added a “skills” component to its profiles last year.

CHALLENGE You are overwhelmed by errands and other location-specific jobs that cannot be farmed out to the other side of the planet. You need an affordable gofer: competent, trustworthy, local.

ONE SOLUTION TaskRabbit is an on-demand service for handling quick jobs: assembling Ikea furniture, packing boxes, wrapping gifts, mailing invitations or even carrying awkward objects like Christmas trees. The company sends requests to a network of “rabbits” — errand-runners screened through video interviews and background checks — who bid for the work. Last month, 80 were hired to wait on Black Friday lines.

Leah Busque got the idea for TaskRabbit one night in 2008, when she was going out to dinner and realized she had no food in the house for Kobe, her yellow Labrador. Envisioning an online service for dispatching errand-runners, she quit her job as an I.B.M. software engineer to build it. A year later, she won a slot in Facebook’s now defunct incubator program and later moved her company, then called RunMyErrand, to San Francisco from Boston.

Now TaskRabbit has 60 employees at its headquarters and more than 4,000 freelancers wrangling tasks for customers in the Bay Area and Austin, Tex.; Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; New York; Portland, Ore.; and San Antonio.

TaskRabbit has raised almost $40 million in financing, and revenue nearly quintupled this year, Ms. Busque said. She would not disclose sales figures but said the company typically charges users 18 percent on top of its freelancers’ fees. Small businesses, she said, are her fastest-growing group of customers.

THE COMPETITION Agent Anything, Exec., Fancy Hands, PAForADay and Zaarly.

CHALLENGE Your business moved. In days of yore, you would just update the address in the local Yellow Pages. But now that information appears on myriad Web sites like Yelp, Citysearch, Yahoo and Foursquare. How do you adjust them all?

ONE SOLUTION Yext gives business owners a single dashboard for updating directory information and posting special offers across 57 listing sites. After Hurricane Sandy, about 2,300 users logged on to post closings and other storm-related messages, according to Yext’s chief executive, Howard Lerman.

“My favorite was one guy who put up a 24-hour elevator rescue hot line,” he said.

Founded in 2006 in New York City, Yext, in its first incarnation, drove sales leads to other businesses on a pay-per-call basis. In August, Mr. Lerman sold that service, which he said was profitable and generating eight-figure revenue. He wanted to refocus on expanding Yext’s fledgling directory information product, which came out in 2011.

“I’m perfectly happy with the word ‘gamble,’ ” he said. “You should only take big bets in technology.”

Yext has raised $27 million in financing so far for its listings service, which passed the 100,000-subscriber mark this month and generates more than $30 million in annual revenue, according to Mr. Lerman. The full service costs $499, billed annually, and also notifies users when new reviews of their companies appear on listings sites.

“To go to all of those sites individually and try to manage your information or update stuff would take hours and hours and hours,” Mr. Lerman said. “Yext is all about businesses owning their own data.”

THE COMPETITION Localeze, Express Update and CityGrid.

What Exactly Is A Smart City?

December 12, 2012

By: Boyd Cohen
Via: Co.Exist

Smart CityBefore you start pushing for smarter cities, it helps to know exactly what you’re advocating for.

Having worked in the smart cities space for several years now, I am encouraged by the growth of the sector and the pace of technological advancements being developed for urban environments. However, I believe that the smart-cities movement is being held back by a lack of clarity and consensus around what a smart city is and what the components of a smart city actually are.

While some people continue to take a narrow view of smart cities by seeing them as places that make better use of information and communication technology (ICT), the cities I work with (and most of the participants in the #smartchat, a monthly Twitterchat about smart cities held on the first Wednesday of each month) all view smart cities as a broad, integrated approach to improving the efficiency of city operations, the quality of life for its citizens, and growing the local economy.

Later this year, I’ll publish my annual rankings of smart cities here on Co.Exist. In order to improve them, I have been working on a new rubric for smart cities, that I call the Smart Cities Wheel.

Smart Cities WheelThis model has been inspired by the work of many others, including the Center of Regional Science at Vienna University of Technology, Siemens’ work with the Green City Index, and Buenos Aires’ “Modelo Territorial” among others.

Most cities can agree that there is real value in having a smart economy, smart environmental practices, smart governance, smart living, smart mobility, and smart people. Within each of these aspirational goals, I have included three key drivers to achieving the goal. There are over 100 indicators to help cities track their performance with specific actions developed for specific needs.

Let’s walk through a high-level example of how a real city could use the Smart Cities Wheel to develop and implement a smart cities strategy.


Vancouver’s Mayor Robertson, and many before him, have sought to take leadership in the green cities arena. Mayor Robertson and his Greenest City Action Team engaged 30,000+ citizens in a process designed to establish a 2020 goal for the city. The city used “social media and digital technologies to spark citizen-led public-engagement activities like kitchen table discussions at private homes, online discussion forums and workshops at community centres,” according to I participated in this process, including speaking on the plan’s behalf to the Vancouver City Council.

The result is the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, which has set a clear goal for the city to become the greenest in the world by 2020. Vancouver aspires to lead the world in at least one of the six aspirational goals of the Smart City Wheel (Smart Enviro).

Smart cities would also make use of the latest technology to acquire citizen input, like CivicPlus, which offers a range of software and mobile tools for cities to communicate and engage citizens in a dialog about city projects (Castle Rock, Colorado used CivicPlus to get input on the plans for a new city park).


Before creating numerical targets for achieving a smart city vision, it is helpful to actually benchmark where you are. Let’s take Smart Mobility as an example. The Smart Cities Wheel has three key drivers for Smart Mobility: mixed-modal access; prioritized clean and non-motorized options; and integrated ICT.

Each city has its own mobility needs and challenges based on density, topography, existing infrastructure, etc., and while they can learn from each other, cities must develop their own benchmarks and targets around areas of need and opportunity.

It is impossible to overlook Copenhagen’s efforts to promote and prioritize cycling. In 1981 the city developed its first cycling plan and it has been evolving its cycling and mixed-modal goals since 2002.

Before establishing a forward-looking target, cities must establish the baseline. Copenhagen has been measuring cycling and mixed modal use for decades. Now the city has a target indicator: to achieve 50% of all trips to work or school by bike by 2015. The city has been making significant progress towards this goal, having already achieved 37% in 2009. Copenhagen also recently collaborated with MIT to create The Copenhagen Wheel, a hybrid bike wheel that leverages sensors in a bike wheel to monitor pollution, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real time. This is an example of an action within the other smart mobility driver–integrated ICT.


In a previous post, I discussed how cities could and should embrace lean startup principles. Once a city has established quantifiable goals and selected the indicators to measure its progress, it needs to snag some early wins while also building plans for longer-term actions.

The journey to becoming a smart city will stall without a major commitment to supporting efficient, multi-modal transit. Electric vehicles and the appropriate infrastructure appear in many smart-city strategies. However, few places have the resources or demand to install EV charging stations throughout the city. It makes sense for a city to start with a pilot project as a way to get feedback on their hypothesis that by putting charging stations in a particular location, the stations will be used and will actually grow the amount of EV vehicle purchases by citizens living or working in the area.

Toronto just announced a pilot charging station program at a cost of $65,000 to the city. Councillor Mike Layton recognizes the benefits of this small-scale action: “We all know that this is the direction that singular vehicle transport is going in,” said Layton in the National Post. “Why we wouldn’t at least try out something at very limited cost to the city, to get ready for the revolution that is going to happen, is beyond me.”

Smart cities are not one size fits all. Yet, the smart-cities movement could benefit from frameworks like the Smart Cities Wheel that allow a common language to develop amongst citizens, city staff, mayors, and the private sector.

Business Cards Give Way to Cellphone Apps for Networking

November 26, 2012

By: Julie Weed
Via: The New York Times

Sandy Avvari
The business card has long since left the realm of the office Rolodex and entered the world of the Web.

Business acquaintances and meeting attendees now transmit contact information between cellphones, and Web sites and mobile apps can connect that information to social and business networks.

Sandy Avvari, a digital and social media analyst at a Canadian automotive manufacturer, said she met about 15 people a week in her job but exchanged paper business cards only about 20 percent of the time. “We’re much more likely to exchange Twitter handles or connect to each other on LinkedIn,” she said.

Ms. Avvari said she used CardMunch, a free app, to take a photograph of a business card and send it to a service that transcribes the information and adds it to her phone’s address book. CardMunch is owned by LinkedIn, and so if the person is a member, a photo and basic profile of the business card’s owner appear on Ms. Avvari’s phone, allowing her to connect with the person on that service.

Attaching a LinkedIn profile to the business card “makes the contact dynamic, showing job changes or new phone numbers when they happen,” Ms. Avvari said. “It becomes more than a static piece of paper or address book entry.”

With the free app Bump, users can bump or tap their phones together to share contact information. The phones vibrate when they, or the hands holding them, make contact, and information is exchanged between the users’ address books.

If both users are signed into Facebook or LinkedIn, a list of acquaintances they have in common on those sites and in their address books will be displayed. Users can also transmit a photo, for example, of a product they sell if they are meeting at a trade show. Once two people have exchanged data, they can stay in touch using a messaging feature in the app. Bump works across platforms on Android and Apple devices.

With so many contacts flooding into business travelers’ address books, the details of how they met, what they talked about or why someone may be a good contact in the future can fade. Apps like Contacts Journal ($7.99 for iOS, or a free trial version) help users keep track of interactions. Documents like contracts or brochures can be attached to contact information, and users can see a map with pushpins denoting their contacts’ locations.

Many networking apps go beyond electronic business card exchanges and mobile contact databases. LinkedIn is the largest player in the business networking market, with more than 187 million members around the world. In addition to displaying their résumés online, LinkedIn members “connect” to people they know on the service, creating a virtual who-knows-whom map. Job seekers can look for a specific hiring manager and see if they have any connections in common. An employer evaluating a job candidate can get a trusted reference from someone they both know.

The basic functions of LinkedIn are free for individual users. For a monthly fee ranging from $16 to $500, users can gain access to additional search features and contact other members directly without waiting for an electronic introduction.

To network while on a business trip, travelers can use the free Planely Web site to type in their flight itineraries and see who else is traveling at the same time, with overlapping flight plans. Conference- or conventiongoers might find other attendees to share a taxi to the hotel, for instance. Nervous fliers might find someone to take their mind off a long or bumpy flight. The app lists all the Planely travelers on the user’s flight and those who are passing through the airport at the same time, to create a “social flying experience.”

Some networking apps use the phone owner’s location. The Friendthem app works with Facebook, displaying all members who are nearby and have signed up to be visible. This allows two people who meet at a conference, or perhaps at a hotel bar, to become Facebook friends easily, without having to search through a list of similar names to find the right person.

Friend requests can be sent to people who appear nearby, but no instant messaging is available because “our users don’t want creepy people sending them messages like, ‘I see you across the room,’ ” said Charles Sankowich, chief executive and founder of Friendthem. “We want our users to have total control of who communicates with them.” Friendthem also allows users to specify “hiding places,” like home or work, where they want to be invisible.

At home or on the road, the MeetMe app can offer two people convenient locations to meet. Users can choose the type of restaurant they want and use a slider bar to specify whether the meeting place should be equidistant from the two people or closer to one of them. The app also displays user reviews of meeting places and information from, along with directions.

There are, of course, downsides to the constant tracking of business colleagues. Networking apps make it harder to excuse not getting in touch with people by claiming you lost their card or did not know they had changed jobs. “The location-aware apps can also be tricky,” said James Sun, chief executive of Pirq, a mobile app developer in Seattle, “because once someone knows you are in the area, can you avoid having coffee with them?”

And the convenience and abundance of digital contact can be overwhelming, said David Domke, a communications professor at the University of Washington. People can become almost numb to the constant stream of data. “That’s why face to face, human interaction between people has become even more valuable in the digital age,” he said.

Still, users say social media can make initial business meetings less awkward. When she was applying for her current job, Ms. Avvari found the hiring manager’s Twitter stream and noticed they shared a love of baked goods. During the interview, Ms. Avvari brought up her own passion for food and her food blog, which she might not have mentioned otherwise, and the two hit it off.

“Whether it’s an employer or customer, I think few people realize how valuable researching them on social media can be for business,” she said.

Twitter also offers in-person networking on the road. At conferences, there might be a Twitter hashtag, Ms. Avvari said, like #CIAS for the Canadian International Auto Show, so attendees can see one another’s posts. “Sometimes I’ll see a funny or interesting tweet and ask to meet that person for coffee during one of the breaks,” she said.

Krista Canfield, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn, said she used the site to meet people when she traveled for her job. “If I am going to Japan or Brazil and I don’t know anyone,” she said, “I try to connect with people who know someone in my network and meet them for a meal, instead of eating alone.”

More Prestigious Colleges Offer Courses Online

November 22, 2012

By:Stephen Smith
Via: Marketplace
OnlineEducation - StudentClick for AudioLast spring, Harvard and MIT announced a $60 million plan to make scores of their courses available for free online. The partnership, called edX, aims to reach a billion people around the world.

“This is the year of disruption for education,” says MIT computer scientist Anant Agarwal, the president of edX. “The time is right because the Internet is available in large parts of the world. Computers and tablets have become relatively low cost. Things are moving extremely, extremely fast.”

edX is part of a nationwide movement led by three big players. Udacity and Coursera are free education companies based in California. edX is in Cambridge, Mass. The goal for all three of them is to make education available to people worldwide for free. But Anant Agarwal says that edX also has a mission to improve teaching. He says computer technology can help tailor courses to how 21st century college students work and live.

“We are finding that most students watch video between 12 and 2 at night, but we still make them come to lectures early in the morning,” says Agarwal. “But by making available online videos with interaction built in we can make learning available at any place, any time, to anyone.”

A video that introduces one of the initial courses now online at edX announces, “This is CS50! Computer Science 50 is Harvard’s introduction to computer science and art of programming for majors and non-majors…”

Harvard Provost Allan Garber explains that the edX software can record every keystroke and mouseclick that a student makes. That means education researchers will have a fine-grained view of how learners use online lectures, study guides and quizzes.

“One of the beautiful things about online education is that as we improve the tools for teaching and learning, we also learn more about how our students are using these tools. This is a virtuous cycle,” says Garber.

The so-called massively open online course,or MOOC, may change the way students learn not only at Harvard, but also at schools across the United States. As states cut their budgets many public colleges and universities are struggling to teach more students with less money. Schools are looking for ways to cut costs. Terry Moe, a political scientist at the Hoover Intuition at Stanford, says mid-tier colleges ought to tap into the free course-ware from leading universities like Harvard to offer more and better classes to their local students.

“Suppose you have some Pulitzer Prize-wining historian who is a fantastic lecturer on the civil war? Why should they take pot luck and walk into some classroom and get some professor whose not nearly as good as this person. OK it’s that kind of thing, but applied across the full range of subjects,” says Moe.

Moe says struggling schools could teach classes and more students, but with fewer professors.

“This is just a bigger bang for buck way of providing kids with a quality education,” says Moe.

The free classes offered by big-name universities may have another unintended effect on higher education — cheaper degrees.

“There’s going top be the invention of lots of low-cost universities now that take these component parts from Coursera or from an edX and assemble it together in coherent degrees that’ll cost $1,000 or $2,000,” says Michael Horn, a technology expert at the Innosight Institute, a Silicon Valley think-tank.

Horn says these low-cost, online programs would be a “grave danger” to middle-tier colleges and universities in the U.S — those schools that are not particularly well-known nor especially affordable.

“Because why would I go to an institution that has very little brand for $15,000 a year when I could go to a low-cost model and be taking the best of the best from MIT, Dartmouth, Harvard, wherever,” he says. “That I think is going to challenge things quite a bit in the years to come.”

The elite universities experimenting with massively open online courses do not expect their free web-based programs to cut into the current demand for their traditional, on-campus experience. Plenty of students will still want to live in dorms and meet their professors in classrooms. But when the cost of college can run more than $60,000 a year at the most selective schools, a free virtual classroom starts to look pretty good.