How connectivity is revolutionizing everything

BY KATIE FEHRENBACHER
Car: Drive the next always-on gadget

Drivers already rely on cell phones, navigation devices and other connected gadgets to stream music, get directions and check on traffic. Now analysts say that within five years, car owners will expect every car to have a data connection built-in to make these tasks — and more — a seamless (and less distracting) part of the driving experience.

GPS devices originally paved the way for connectivity in the car in the mid 2000s, followed by the automakers’ attempts to brand their own communications services like GM’s OnStar and Ford’s Sync. On the other side of the spectrum are super-connected electric cars, like Tesla’s Model S (it has a 17-inch screen inside!) and the Nissan LEAF. These electric vehicles will one day enable utilities to manage the cars’ charging on the grid, essentially making the cars’ fuel source (electricity) another point of connection. (We’ll have the Model S beta at our GigaOM RoadMap!)

There’s also an eco aspect to the connected car. The proliferation of broadband and mobile allowed car sharing companies Zipcar and Getaround to create on-the-go reservation systems, and create iPhone apps to unlock and lock car doors. GPS has a quiet green side, too, since taking the most direct route to a location can cut down significantly on fuel consumption. Just ask FedEx, which used GPS and software for route optimization to reduce their fuel costs.

For startups, the car can actually be a difficult ecosystem to crack. There are few established standards for connectivity in the car and the automakers and cell phone companies dominate the space. Dash Navigation showed some initial promise a few years ago, raising $71 million from investors. But after stalled sales, it was sold to RIM for $8.3 million.

In the next few years, connectivity within the car will become more standardized, and the car could become the next platform for innovation. A next generation of startups will use car data and connectivity to create new vehicle applications and services, most of which we probably haven’t even dreamed up yet.

Work: Work is no longer a place

BY JESSICA STILLMAN

Just a few years ago, work was a location. Now, for many of us, it’s an action. Thanks to ubiquitous, fast broadband, a host of collaboration technologies and a handful of powerful shifts in our thinking,work has been steadily moving from a place to a network of connected individuals.

Technology has paved the way for location-independent work, and the tools needed for successful remote collaboration continue to evolve. Enterprise social media companies like Yammer and next-gen video conferencing solutions have emerged, and a host of innovation management platforms are helping companies leverage one of their most valuable resources: ideas. (One day, you may even get a robot as your in-office proxy.)

New tools, gadgets and apps aren’t the only changes that are emerging via connected work. Mindsets need to change as well as tech. Managers must learn how to supervise telecommuters and keep diverse teams collaborating smoothly.

Connected work also realigns the very relationship between workers and employers. Onlinelabor marketplaces like oDesk and Elance offer to match those in need of services with workers to create a more flexible workforce. Companies are tapping this “human cloud” to use more on-demand workers and access talent from across the globe. Workers are exploring the possibilities and pitfalls of “the gig economy.” And companies have to address the new legal, tax and benefits questions that are emerging because of the changes.

And then there are the changes to the physical environment and the things that fill it: the cubicles, computers and smartphones. IT departments have already had to adjust to the consumerization of tech, as companies increasingly allow workers to bring their own devices to the office. Many companies are reexamining their concept of work as a place. With more employees connecting remotely, will real estate footprints shrink, and will our roads and communities adapt for less commuting and more remote work? And will co-working become a more mainstream, or even dominant, form of work?

The only thing we’re sure of is that work is becoming increasingly untethered from the office. Managers, workers, startups, even architects and politicians will continue to grapple with these changes for years to come.

Stuff: Access trumps ownership

BY KATIE FEHRENBACHER

Owning stuff is so yesterday. The future of goods — from cars to apartments to tools — is all about access, and this new service-based sharing economy will use broadband as a platform.

The sharing economy has quietly been around for years on the web. EBay, Craigslist and other pioneers built the foundation of so-called “collaborative consumption,” leveraging the Internet to help people resell, share or give away stuff. These companies took their fair share of arrows in their backs over the years as they helped users slog through security and privacy concerns and payment issues.

But now, a new kind of startup has emerged in recent years, taking what these older companies learned and expanding on the lessons, looking to provide an Internet sharing economy that relies on mobile, social networking, and a virtual sense of community.

Car sharing is one of the most well-known of these collaborative consumption sectors.Zipcar is about a decade old, and newer peer-to-peer car sharing companies — likeRelayRidesGetaround and HiGear — have emerged more recently. The idea is that the car is one of the most expensive and underutilized assets people own, and in urban environments, ownership has become increasingly unsustainable. Why not make it a service and create a network of car-owning entrepreneurs?

Car sharing is also considered the gateway drug of collaborative consumption: Once people try it, they often want to participate in the sharing of other goods. Apartment-sharing is another big trend, and Airbnb is the poster child of the companies trying to disrupt the hotel industry by providing a way for people to rent out their homes. (Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky will talk about what he has learned at GigaOM RoadMap.)

Other startups are looking to create niche communities around a specific set of shared goods. ThredUp — a sharing community around baby clothes — and Toygaroo, which is a service for baby toys, are good examples of companies tapping into a previously unmet need. (Baby stuff is temporal, i.e., kids grow up fast). Still, other startups are looking to create a virtual neighborhood around actual neighborhoods, and catalyze the sharing that comes with such a geographical community.

Perhaps our favorite part about collaborative consumption is that it’s a more efficient way to use goods. Fewer goods will be made if people can efficiently share them; car sharing leads to fewer cars owned and less gas burned. We look forward to the day when excessive consumption morphs into collaborative consumption and people only buy and own what they really need.

Data: Data is the new digital currency

BY DERRICK HARRIS

Data has been called the new oil, a sentiment that’s particularly apt when discussing the web. Like oil in a machine, data makes the web run. Without data, Facebook is just an empty platform, and Google is just a search provider.

Data has also been called the currency of the digital age. That’s true in some regard — rather than pay cash for many popular web services, we offer our personal data — but the analogy has its limits. Before data is truly the new currency, it has to be more connected. Wherever we go on the web, and possibly in the physical world, our data needs to travel with us and work for us.

Connected data brings with it life-altering promise for those willing to embrace data as a currency. Imagine a digital profile traveling with you as you peruse the web, letting sites with analytics capabilities know who you are and what your preferences are. Without having to select preferences or even log in to each site, information, products, music — whatever you care about — would emerge.

But it doesn’t stop with the digital world. For example, a customer loyalty card connected to your digital profile swiped at the entrance to a building could bring about a truly personalized shopping experience full of unique offers and specialized services. Health-related data generated by specialized watches or other sensors on our bodies, location data from cell phones, data from our cars, you name it: When taken as a whole, it all goes toward creating a more optimized life.

Of course, the privacy concerns are nearly endless in a world of connected data, which makes some of today’s work around regulation very important. Consumers willing to embrace connected data need to understand what data any given site will collect and share, and consumers need a choice about how much they’re willing to share. With every paradigm shift comes trade-offs, and when we’re talking about sharing potentially personal information with databases everywhere, knowing what we’re giving up, and what we can expect in return, is of the utmost importance.

Media: We are all media now

BY MATHEW INGRAM

In a world of connected devices and always-on networks, everyone is now a member of the media. While the full ramifications of this are still becoming clear, they have already been profound: