It has just been launched, but everyone in the industry is talking about it. Age of Context is already so famous for a reason; Scoble and Israel are showing us the future of communication.
The Five Contextual Forces
“They’re everywhere.” The five forces of context – mobile, social media, data, sensors and location – are changing businesses of all sizes. Forward-thinking leaders have understood this and are using these forces to prosper.
According to Scoble and Israel, for the next five to ten years the smartphone will be the wireless device of choice for the majority of users in the world.
In 2012, the number of mobile phones on the planet surpassed the number of people; by the end of 2013 we had 120 million tablets, and this number is expected to grow to 665 million by 2016.
However, mobile is taking new forms, named wearables. The authors are very enthusiastic about such new devices, especially Scoble with his inseparable Google Glass. “Despite how new and different these products may seem, people are adopting them faster than many prognosticators anticipated.”
“Social media is essential to the new Age of Context. It is in our online conversations that we make it clear what we like, where we are and what we are looking for.”
Social media is not a disruptive force anymore. “Instead it is a vital business component.” Rather than being resisted, it is now embedded into the very heart of business, at least of the successful ones. There is not a modern company that is developing go-forward strategies without including social media, where employees and users often collaborate to improve products and services. The authors do not forget to remind us that using social media wisely, implies understanding it is a two-way channel. “If you just send messages out, it’s like using a phone only to talk, not listen.”
“It is the oxygen of the Age of Context. It is everywhere and it is essential.”
Today we often hear, read and talk about “big data.” However, the authors suggest not being trapped by that term since it is not the huge amount of data that really matters. Instead attention should be given to the little data, those little pieces of information that “make us smarter and enable us to keep up with, and make sense of, an accelerating world.” Companies like Google are showing the benefit of this approach. They have built gigantic networks capable of storing all the data being produced; yet, they have figured out how to extract from these big data mountains “the little spoonfuls” that everyday individuals really want and need.
Sensors are “simple little things” attached to all sorts of living and inert objects. They are everywhere on the planet, “as well as above and below it.” They can measure and report on changes – even and especially the ones that we as humans are unable to track – as well as share what they observe. They seem to watch us, listen to us as well as understand what we are doing. It was in 2001, when conversations around what could happen if sensors were used to communicate on the web started to happen. MIT’s Kevin Ashton coined the term “The Internet of Things” developing the concept of inanimate objects talking with humans and with each other over the Internet in global networks. “That vision is now a reality.”
To date, an average of seven sensors enable smartphones to provide highly personalised benefits, by knowing where people are and what they are doing. They know when we are heading or leaving the office, what building we are in. “Not too far into the future, your mobile device will also know what floor you are on, what room you are in, and in which direction you are moving.” Thanks to sensors individuals will be treated in the context of who they are.
There cannot be context without location. And there cannot be location without maps. The authors hold Google in particular high regards while at the same time acknowledging that there are new location-based services “from creative and brilliant startups” that have appeared on the scene recently, and “we anticipate many more to come.”
When it comes to location-based mobile services, the “granddaddy” is Foursquare; founded in 2009 Foursquare allows users to check in based on where they are. While Foursquare remains popular, there are also a plethora of more sophisticated new services around the corner. For example, if you are on holiday: “when you are snow skiing they will know where you are located, how fast you are going and thus when you will arrive at the lodge, and when to have that Irish coffee they know you favor ready to be poured as you amble up to the bar. Perhaps you paid for your adult beverage in advance with a web-stored credit card activated by a nod, blink or gesture your digital eyewear understood.”
Bringing it into the work context
“The time will soon come when not having your own PCA (Personal Contextual Assistants) will be like not having email.”
What are the implications of our readers working in internal communications? Well, they are many and huge. The Age of Context is going to change employee communications and workplace practices dramatically.
For example, wearable technology is already leading to what the authors call the “connected human”, for which we – humans – are beginning to integrate with our technologies. Computers will become part of us; some of them will be our assistants, coaches and advisors, constantly communicating with us and for us. According to Scoble and Israel this bonding between people and machines will results in individuals being better informed, more aware of changes in their environments as well as more secure, efficient and productive.
PCAs are open, cloud-based mobile platforms that automate redundant and predictable tasks, and warn individuals when changes can impact on their plans. Our personal contextual assistants will understand if we are heading at work and want to read news reports; they will alert us if they see an email conversation that can impact on our schedule, perhaps suggesting an action based on our behaviours. Some primitive forms of PCAs are already in place, such as EasilyDo, which automate mundane tasks, update contacts and calendar appointments, see when we get new information and ask our permission to update for us. Atoma is another example; it can do a great job in understanding how our “context and preferences change between work and play” and organises work and personal tasks separately for us. Not to mention Google Now; some even say that it is too good at seeing our connections among the data available in all our different apps. Based on what it sees in our accounts, while we are occupied doing other things Google Now send us reminders about what it thinks we need, even before we ask it to do that.
Other remarkable progresses will facilitate a new level of co-operation brought by the networked era. Without any doubt, according to the authors, the five forces will change forever the way companies collaborate. They will bring their inside and outside audiences together as never before to improve products and services. This has already started to happen through online communities, which allow companies to engage with their stakeholders in meaningful and productive conversations. The phenomenon will continue to amplify. “The company’s customers, analysts, media, investors and future employees become a wise crowd, helping each other. They do it faster and often with passion, while the company saves on resources.”
Trust is the new currency
Even the most enthusiastic people of contextual technology such as Scoble and Israel worry about the more complex and volatile “dark sides” of such forces. Not the technology itself, but the intentions with which people and organisations will utilise them. For example, the authors write about PARC, a Sillicon Valley’s research center working on a contextual intelligence service that determines people’s mood. They are currently working on a version for business-oriented purposes. Through phone sensors the system will be able to track individuals’ mood and pass that information to employers. “Could an employer track an employee, after giving her a bad review, to see if this darkened the employee’s mood or caused depression?” wonder the authors.
The whole discussion brings focus to the delicate issue of privacy. Even though Scoble and Israel are evangelists for these new technologies they use their expert knowledge on the topic to elucidate both the pros and cons. However they still maintain and share their personal optimistic view on the subject believing that the benefits gained from contextual technology will highly outweigh the costs of reduced privacy.
Openness will create significant opportunities for both individuals and organisations. Yet, transparency and trustworthiness will be key differentiating factors of any company’s future success. “The most transparent companies – the ones that give user privacy options they can understand and the option to turn apps and devices off and on as they see fit – will be deemed the most trustworthy.”
“If we are right, then the Age of Context will give us an open new world.”
Should you read this book? I would strongly encourage you to do so. If you are a keen communicator willing to know where our industry is heading and what you can do as a professional to help your organisation keep up with the Age of Context, then you should put this resource on your 2014 reading list. But do not just put it there; make sure you read it. This is not a fiction book; “a storm of change is coming.”
This article originally appeared on simply-communicate