Dogtech. Yes, it’s a thing.

Meet Mo. He was found by some friends of a work colleague, two young girls on their way to school, in a plastic bag which had been dumped in a garbage skip. He wasn’t alone, there were four other puppies in the bag, three of them were already dead. The girls could keep one of the survivors, but not both. As I’m sure you can understand, I found myself unable to say no.

Mo as a puppy

You see why I couldn’t say no, right?

And bear in mind that I’m not into dogs. I never had one growing up, and we live in an apartment in the middle of the city, and we travel quite a lot, so no way were we ever going to have a dog. That would just be silly.

And yet, the black and white dog-breath hairball has made my family so happy. We’re generally cheerful people, but since Mo burst into our lives, we laugh more, we play more, and it really seems like my kids’ hearts have grown in size.

Mo sleeping

This is how the now-4-year-old Mo sleeps. That can’t be comfortable.

So today, just before we head off to London for Christmas, I’m going to briefly tell you about dogs and technology. I often write about gadgets that enhance our lives and/or help society. Why should dogs be left out?

I’ve written before about the booming sector of wearable fitness trackers. You guessed it, they exist for dogs, too. FitBark, which hit the market this summer, attaches to your dog’s collar, and tracks his or her activity. Is he or she getting enough exercise? How is your dog reacting to a life changing event? Whistle is another dog activity tracker, and from late 2015, WhistleGPS will also track your dog’s location. Tagg, due to ship in February, will track your dog’s activity, whereabouts, and ambient temperature wherever he is. Voyce, which is expected to ship in March, tracks your dog’s activity, whereabouts and vital signs such as his heartrate, breathing and even calories burned.

FitBark

Image from FitBark

Mo hardly ever barks, and when he does, we often disagree on what he’s trying to tell us. No More Woof (in development) should help us out, it will “decipher” your dog’s barks to let you know if he’s hungry, scared, tired or simply annoyed about these weird gadgets you keep fixing around his neck.

When it comes to play, technology is also there to show us that a ball is not always enough. Petcube lets you see, talk to and play with your dog while you’re at work. It sits on the counter with its wide-lens camera and microphone, and a remotely-controlled laser pointer lets you take a playful break that’s good for both of you. Petziconnect is a similar concept, but also lets you take photographs, and instead of a laser pointer, you can remotely activate the treat dispenser to give your dog a nice surprise.

Petcube dog monitoring

Image from Petcube

But, it’s not all about hyper-dogging your dog. Dog technology can save human lives. We all know that dogs are smart (not so sure about Mo, though, but that’s another story), and can be trained to perform detailed tricks and to follow complicated instructions. When it comes to helping people, it’s not just the blind who benefit. Dogs can be trained to turn on light switches or press buttons that open doors for handicapped owners, or to raise the alarm if their diabetic human friend collapses. But if the buttons and switches are in high-contrast colours, have different sizes and can be activated by a nose or a paw, the training time necessary is drastically reduced. It turns out it’s almost intuitive. The same happens with alarms that are multi-coloured ropes that the dog can pull with its teeth. And yes, dogs can help to detect the presence of cancer cells in humans. A technological device lets the dog even indicate its level of certainty.

Technology is about optimization, of our time, our abilities, our health… The optimization of our dogs’ lives is an inevitable extension, and while each of us dog-owners can choose to do that in the way we see as most “enhancing”, improving our best friends’ health and mental agility has to be a better investment than dog jewellery and fashion. How do they feel about it? Probably not that much different from how we feel when our technology helps us achieve better health, more mental stimulation and a greater sense of security. Do dogs need any of this? Well, do we? It’s available, and it not only enhances but also saves lives. And in the process, what we learn about dogs’ brains, bodies and thoughts will help us to better understand their world. And ours.

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Mo, myself and the rest of the family wish you HAPPY HOLIDAYS, and a very Happy New Year!! Until January!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year

Sharing in the hype: the collaborative economy and motivation

Ironic that today in the financial press we read that a judge has banned Uber from operating in Spain (although not really, see Enrique Dans’ article), and we read about the launch of Sharing España, a “collaborative economy” association. The objective of the new association is to represent the sector’s interests, and to convince users of its efficiency and security. And Uber, poster child of this new economic activity, is not invited.

Sharing España

One of the participating companies, Cabify, whose image decorates the Sharing España article (and of which I am a happy client), competes with traditional taxis in that its prices are on the whole lower and its cars are nicer. It has a convenient booking app, but so do several other taxi companies. It lets you pre-book, and the payment is automatically and conveniently taken from your credit card, as with other taxi companies. Cabify operates in several Spanish cities without legal problems, and has passed several inspections. The difference between Cabify and Uber is that Cabify’s drivers have the requisite chauffeur licences (which cost a fraction of the taxi licence price). The similarities are mainly that Cabify’s drivers are independent contractors who own their own cars. They don’t “work for” Cabify, they “collaborate”.

I’ve said before that I think that the “collaborative economy” is badly named, and I stand by that. Cabify drivers, EatWith chefs and Myfixpert technicians are selling their services, their time, their effort… It’s a commercial transaction. In general they receive a fixed, market-based amount for their efforts. In a collaboration, economic or otherwise, you work together to produce a result, which you then get to share. The participants in the “collaborative economy” companies collaborate in generating the platform’s profits, but they don’t get to share them.

image by Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

image by Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

However, collaborative economy is a much better name than “sharing economy”, and why the founding members chose to call the association “Sharing España” is beyond me. It sounds innovative and kind, which should appeal. But it is misleading, and that almost always backfires.

Calling it “Sharing España” is buying into the hype. In case you doubted that there’s a lot of hype, here’s venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar: “This is a movement as important as when the web browser came out.”.And take a look at these headlines: “Sharing Economies are Here to Stay”, from the Guardian. “The Rise of the Sharing Economy”, from the renowned Economist magazine. And I got the Pishevar quote from an article in Forbes, a usually serious business magazine, called “Airbnb and the Unstoppable Rise of the Share Economy”. A magazine of that level should know that nothing in the economic world is unstoppable, especially after the economic crisis that the developed world has been clawing through. Wasn’t it hype that got us there in the first place?

Take the case of Airbnb. They started out in 2008 by advertising floor space in their apartment during a trade fair that had flooded the city with cash-strapped creative types. They had space for three airbeds (yes, that’s where the name came from, Airbedandbreakfast), which they managed to rent out. Is that a new business? No! Could they have done that without the Internet? Yes! A few flyers taped to lampposts around the area and pinned to bulletin boards in coffee shops would no doubt have produced the same effect. Were they sharing? No, they were renting out space. A commercial transaction.

And that’s the key. Sharing should not be commercial. Sharing is worthy, valuable, and gives benefit to the sharer and the sharee. But it should not have any motive other than the satisfaction of doing the “right” thing, of being kind.

In 1995, two Swedish economists launched a motivation experiment that had unexpected results. They visited a clinic in Gothenberg and divided the potential blood donors there into three equal groups. One group was told that they could give blood if they wanted, it would be appreciated. The second group was told that they would be paid 50 kronor to give blood. The third group was told that if they gave blood, 50 kronor would be donated to their favourite charity. Interestingly enough, the number of willing donors in the second group dropped significantly. Offering an economic incentive “tainted” an altruistic act, and the participants lost interest. Simply “doing good” was enough motivation for the first and third groups. And that’s my main point. Sharing is good. Let’s not taint it by equating it with a commercial transaction.

Sharing, empathy and honesty are the three main pillars of childhood values. And yet, of the three, sharing is the only one whose definition is being re-engineered by the media (in most cases at the behest of the businesses) to create buzz, generate hype and coin sound-bites. We’re doing ourselves a disservice. Hype can generate some short-term attention, but it generally fizzles out to the catchy tune of “I saw it coming” and “I told you so”. And the damage is not just limited to the number of closed businesses, the millions of $ or € wasted on buzz-based funding, and the subsequent prejudice against valid businesses that got tainted with the hype brush. The price will also be paid by education, values and society as a whole. I can so see little kids in the playground, when being urged to share, ask “what’s my percentage”?

We need to reclaim the word “sharing”, to give it back its generous meaning. That would generate a benefit for current and future generations, which we could all actually share.

 

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If you’re interested in more stuff about the Sharing Economy, check out my Flipboard (and yes, I did, I called it “Sharing Economy”):

Flipboard magazine on the Sharing Economy

Digital art: gifs by Graphonaute

You know what gifs are, right? Animated images on a short loop, sometimes annoying, occasionally funny, and every now and then quite breathtaking. Gif stands for “graphics interchange format”, and their ubiquity is based on the fact that almost all servers support them, and they don’t take up much memory. For some inexplicable reason, everyone pronounces the hard “g”, but the correct way to say it is with a soft “g”, as in “jif”, according to the inventors. Go figure.

gif by Graphonaute

by Graphonaute

I’ve tried to make gifs, it’s not that easy Which is why the work and creativity in these, by Hugo Germain (aka “Graphonaute“) leaves me open-mouthed.

gif by Graphonaute

by Graphonaute

Full-blown 3d effects, on gifs? CGI rendering, on gifs?

gif by Graphonaute

by Graphonaute

Amazing. And he’s 18 years old. Take a look at his website to see more, they’re all very surprising.

What does the Sharing Economy have to do with sharing?

On Thursday I went to the screening of “Compartir Mola” (“Sharing is Good”, in Spanish), a short documentary about the sharing economy in Spain produced by Tutellus and AlfaZulú. An impressive film, very well done, dynamic, informative, thoughtful…. It’s in Spanish, but if you would like to see it, and I do recommend it, you can sign up on the Tutellus web (UPDATE: now it’s open, you don’t need to sign to see it!).

Compartir Mola

Yet, the title annoyed me. Sharing is good, yes. But I don’t see what sharing has to do with most of the businesses springing up in this sector. “Sharing” for me is more “Would you like some of my sandwich?” or “Sure, you can borrow my coat any time you want”, than “Would you like me to help you with this in exchange for money?”. In what way is “please use my empty apartment for €120 per day” not “renting”?

The round table debate after the screening focussed mainly on the fiscal aspects of the companies in the sector, whether they pay tax or not. Everyone agrees that of course they should, the obstacle is that the systems are not yet in place here in Spain to ensure that that happens efficiently and fairly. However, I don’t want to get into that debate today, as I am sure that it will get sorted out by the tax experts (and I so hope that they actually consult with the entrepreneurs, for a change). I would like to talk more about the misconception that the label “sharing economy” helps to propagate, a misconception that hinders the concept’s acceptance by the consuming public.

One of the protagonists of the film, Rafael Martínez-Cortiña (@rafaelmcortina) of Peers.org, mentioned the true nature of the concept, and a much better name, in my opinion: Peer to Peer. P2P. Similar to B2B (business to business), only much bigger, and more charming. And not at all similar to B2C, or business to consumer. Please notice the absence of a “C”. We are no longer just consumers, we are peers.

Many of the new platforms in this space are two-way, bi-directional. WeSwap and Moniefy, for example, pair up travellers wanting to buy a currency with travellers wanting to sell. Homeexchange facilitates home swaps. With Zilok, you can be both a renter and a rentee.

Moniefy

But even if the roles of supplier and consumer are interchangeable, is that sharing? To me, it sounds like a marketer’s hype, up there with “gluten-free” and “organic”. It sounds lovely, but let’s get real. We’re taught to share, not to share-in-exchange-for-some-material-good-or-service. Sure, there’s some playground negotiation along the lines of “If I let you use my iPod, can I play on your PSP?”. But that’s not usually how kids understand sharing. And it’s not a business model.

What is a business model, and a very exciting one, is the “democratizing” of supply. We can all be suppliers, now, of our services, expertise, time, household appliances, unwanted clothing, extra space, cars, pet care, cooking… Whatever you have or can do, there’s probably a platform that lets you offer that, for money. Many people even make a living from offering their services or products on these platforms. Etsy gives artists and craftsmen access to a large enough market to make their niche products economically viable. O-desk and similar give freelancers a relatively steady stream of potential work. FarmDrop gives me a chance to sell the fresh mint I grow on my balcony (or it would if I grew mint and lived in North or South London).

Farmdrop

Labelling all such platforms part of the “sharing economy” is confusing, and as such, actually delays its mass adoption. When it comes to commerce, we’re not hard-wired to share. I want to own or rent my own place precisely because I don’t want to share my space with anyone. I would rather own a KitchenAid and be able to use it whenever I want, than have to wait for availability to make my chocolate chip cookies. You know the saying “Good fences make good neighbours?”. Sharing is fine within the playground and within families, everyone can get on board with that. But as an economic principle? Not in our capitalist societies. And the longer we call it “sharing”, the longer the mainstream consumers will consider it a “hippy” new technology thing that’s not worth spending the time to understand.

Another term used for this concept is “Collaborative Economy”. That is also not the best label. Collaborate in what? Generating traffic and profits for the platform? Didn’t we always collaborate in generating profits for the companies we bought from? In the Peer to Peer models, we are working more closely with each other, but we don’t generally have a common aim. Yes, recycling is a worthy aim, and we are collaborating on that, I suppose. But basically, we want an income.

There is a Collaborative Economy, but it’s not the Airbnbs and the Muncherys that populate it. It’s the crowdsourcing platforms such as Quirky or the crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, in which participants supply their ideas or their funds to achieve a common aim. I’ll talk about them another time, because the concept is fascinating, and does reveal a significant shift in the supplier/customer relationship.

bondsy

And there is a Sharing Economy, but it’s not the Ubers or the Rent the Runways that fill its ranks. Its platforms like Bondsy, which allows users to swap unwanted items, or GoodGym which pairs runners with elderly people who need companionship. Neighborgoods.net connects neighbours with goods to lend or borrow. Again, we’ll talk about that later on, too, because the creativity and spirit is inspiring.

I would like to propose a new name for the concept, that encompasses every company that I’ve looked at so far in the sector: the Connecting Economy. You could argue that even in the era of Big Business, we connected with… well, with Big Business. But the communication technologies that make the new businesses possible are all about connectivity. They allow you and me to connect with a vast number of people simultaneously, something that previously only mass media could do. The fact that I can efficiently connect with a potter in Australia or a translator in Iceland, opens up huge marketplaces for me and for them. The fact that I can make something – a scarf, a song, a tutorial – and with a few clicks put it out there for people to hopefully buy, opens up a world of marketing and business opportunities.

But we’re not sharing. We’re connecting. When I participate in your crowdfunding, we’re connecting. When you download my pdfs, we’re connecting. It’s more than just peer-to-peer. Its me-to-the-world, but at the same time it’s intimate. It’s big business, but it’s about relationships. These businesses are more than just marketplaces, they are connectors and relationship-generators. Inventory is distributed, transaction friction is eliminated, and it’s changing the way we think about our role in society. While there are many issues that still need to be worked out, and while not all of the companies currently operating in the sector will survive, this business concept is not going to go away. We do need, however, to tone down the hype, stop pretending it’s all altruistic, and look at the important part of this disruption: connections.

(I’m working on a “map” of the sector. It’s fascinating. I’ll keep you posted.)

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If you’re interested in more stuff about the Sharing Economy, check out my Flipboard (and yes, I did, I called it “Sharing Economy”):

Flipboard magazine on the Sharing Economy

 

And, if you’d like more about crowdfunding, I have a Flipboard magazine on that, too:

flipboard crowdfunding