No Longer an Empty (Nest)er

02-nest-thermostatI received a Nest wireless thermostat as a present this year and I am beyond thrilled. I know Santa can bring many things so why ask for a thermostat? Most of us don’t give thermostats much thought. For decades the thermostat did not go through any evolution. It was a small, round ring on the wall, usually gold in color. It stayed the same for so long despite the fact that it plays one of the most important roles in the house; controlling the temperature. When we’re cold or hot we walk over to the thermostat and adjust it. It’s a manual process and when we’re not home nothing happens.

More advanced models came along allowing us to program the temperature by day and time. At that point the device shape-shifted to a rectangle and became mostly white. Excellent progress, but still really basic.

One of my pet peeves is when someone walks into a home or office and overreacts to the temperature. Let’s say it’s summer and they are hot. They turn the thermostat down to frozen, but the room doesn’t cool down any faster by setting the temperature to 65° instead of 70°. What happens is the AC runs until it’s 65° then the person feels cold and turns it back up. Two outcomes here. First, the temperature is yet again uncomfortable. Second, wasted energy.

Ok. I’ll get back on track now.

The Nest thermostat is the essence of convergence. Nest not only senses the temperature in your home it also collects information on humidity, light and activity. More data points means more power. It has a touchscreen instead of switches and a beautiful user interface. Nest connects to your wireless network so it can access the time and weather in your area and download system updates. Essentially it learns as I adjust the temperature and uses all the information available to gain efficiency and save energy. You can download smartphone and tablet apps to check in on your home and adjust the temp from anywhere.

Nest Post

It has all kinds of little bonuses built in. Filter change reminders, auto-away, shutting off AC but leaving the fan on to get the cold air out of the ducts, etc. It’s all laid on on Nest’s extremely well designed web site.

We will be seeing a lot of this kind of smartness being built into everyday things, something David Armano (@armano, Managing Director at Edelman) referred to as Sensory Intelligence in his recent collection of Social-Digital Trends for 2013. There is a lot going on in this space today. Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) and Shel Israel (@shelisrael) are working on a new book, “Age of Context” that explores contextual software and how it’s being used today to help businesses and consumers.

The Nest is a bit pricey compared to other thermostats at about $249, but if you are high-tech inclined and looking for even more ways to reduce your energy bills and carbon footprint, this is the way to go. It took me about 20 minutes to install and set-up.

Last and Final from the Forrester Consumer Forum 2008

Wagons west

As mentioned in the last episode, this post will skip the Forrester speakers and customer presentations and cover one of the “outsiders.” Forrester always places a strong speaker at the end of the second day in an attempt to help keep their attendees on site. It usually thins out anyway, but for those who stay they are richly rewarded. The forum theme was Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customer. You can catch up on my first two installments here and here.

The forum keynotes closed with the animated Paco Underhill, an environmental psychologist and founder of Envirosell, a firm that specializes in studying how people interact with retail and service environments. He is also the author of Why we Buy and Call of the Mall. He had very few slides, instead he told his story using actual footage captured while in the field. His talk, Shopping as the Dipstick of Social Change, was more like being in a meeting with him vs. listening to a presentation. Of all the sessions I attended, I took more notes in this one than any other by a factor of at least 3. Here are some of my favorite sound bites.

  • The world is designed by men but experienced by women. The men should ask the question, what makes my product or service female friendly?
  • Do you feel more time poor or money poor? Most answer time poor.
  • Online is about saving time.
  • As you design something think about how someone will use it the 12th time just as much as you think about how they will use it the first time.
  • Run your company like a global firm, but relate on a local level.
  • Convergence is the collision of online, mobile and bricks & mortar.
  • Shopping will transform more in the next 10 years than it has in the previous 50.
  • The best technology is the least technology.
  • Tech needs must be better engaged with culture needs
  • Stop thinking sitting down (meetings, excel, word, PPT)
  • The word for the 20th century was strategy, in the 21st century it will be tactics. Get a tactical grasp on your strategy.
  • Amenability is linked to profitability.
  • Health care is the only growth industry we have today.
Paco Underhill on stage

He showed clip after clip of how humans shop and voice tracked how that behavior was a barometer for a social change taking place across the globe. He didn’t neatly tie up the loose ends in a nice tidy Forrester-style theme, but he accomplished something just as important. He got me to think and think deeply about many of the things I have been working on.

A few weeks ago one of my agency partners came to town for a typical meeting. She was not on the iPhone train yet, and watched me use mine. I let her make a call and as she put it to her ear the first thing she said was, “How do I look?” What an insight I had. Cell phone stores should put up mirrors right by the phone displays. Their sales would go up. It underscored what Mr. Underhill had been saying. A man asks himself a very different question when he tries out a technology device. And sure enough Paco mentioned that phone retailers should have mirrors by their displays. Once again, great minds think alike ;).

He also put forth his hypothesis of why Social Media has grown so quickly. It is in large part do to the number of consumers who reside in the suburbs and live a much more lonely existence vs. their urban counterparts.

In summary the big ideas I took away from the forum were:

  • Tune into your online customer
  • Create value by making change
  • Nail down a multi-customer point of view
  • Empower your customers by embracing Social Media
  • Challenge your current organizational structure to prepare for the customer of tomorrow

There were some very helpful take aways for for all of us as we work to weather the current economic climate, Thanks Forrester for another helpful forum.

Is Radio Dead? WXRT Says No

In an earlier post I wrote about my bliss over having discovered Pandora, an online radio station service. A big attraction is not having to listen to annoying commercials and even more annoying DJ’s. The goal of today’s digital music formats is to eliminate the business of music and get right to the music itself. Hard to argue with.

But when done right, radio can be a great experience, and dare I say it, even an art form. I have been listening to WXRT Chicago’s Finest Rock since I moved to Chicago in 1985. They are by far the best radio station I’ve ever heard. They give you an engaging, enriching experience. What makes it stand out are the personalities. Some have come and gone, but the staples at XRT are, Lin Brehmer, Terri Hemmert, Marty Lennartz, Frank E. Lee, Tom Marker and Johnny Mars.


They know music. Not just the songs, the music. The lyrics, the riffs, the roots, the meaning. They lived it, having grown up during the time when rock music exploded onto the American scene. Most importantly they are friends and neighbors. Here are two real life, first hand examples to illustrate my point.

One of my favorites is Lin Brehmer who anchors the morning show. So smart and funny. Such a great way to start the day. Lin sprinkles in movie and TV dialog clips into his show to punctuate a news story, or heap yet more misery on another Chicago Cubs losing year. He also has a bit of a twisted sense of humor. When Oliver Stone’s film, Natural Born Killers was released on Laser Disk, it included some scenes that didn’t make the final cut. Yes I had a Laser Disk player. It still works and I have over 300 films on the LD format. One of the deleted scenes was of Denis Leary ranting to the camera about who is to blame for anything and everything. Classic. Oliver Stone said that he left it out because it slowed down the film (oh really). I recorded the clip and sent it in to Lin along with this letter.


Although I never got a direct response from Lin, he occasionally plays this same audio clip on air when it fits. I think I’ve heard it 4 or 5 times. I attribute that to me, even if it’s not true. Want to know more about Lin, and who doesn’t? Here’s a slice of a day in the life of Lin Brehmer.

Here’s another. XRT has a twice weekly segment called Going to the show with A Regular Guy. I won’t reveal the radio personality who plays A Regular Guy. But the character is all Chicago, right down the the accent. “Bak it up and leev the kez in da carrr.” He also has a good working knowledge of film that can deliver a hilarious and at times insightful movie review. I was really obsessed with archiving the segments, so I set-up an audio cassette player and recorded them for years. One time I was out of town, traveling for work just as he was going to review JFK, oddly enough another Oliver Stone film. I missed it and was distraught. Upon my return home I left him a voice mail and asked if he would be so kind as to send me an audio copy of that review. This was before Internet streaming, or podcasting, etc. Essentially the stone age. A few days later a package arrived and in it was an audio cassette with his review, along with a nice note.


At the time I was in the video distribution business, so I would send him screeners of films before they were out. One day my assistant let me know that The Regular Guy was on the phone. He thanked me and we had a great conversation about film and music. You can hear A Regular Guy’s reviews via the web here.

So don’t give up on radio. The good ones have embraced the web and are taking advantage of the ongoing technology convergence. As a result many have expanded their audience. Used to be if you moved away from a city you had to leave your radio station behind. No longer. Give XRT a try by clicking here.


Internet Appliance for the Nuclear Family

As computing evolves, networks expand and technology converges, we are seeing an explosion of new appliances hit the marketplace designed to help consumers remain connected to their new webbed world. There are lots of them that do many things, but the designers who think about culture and society alongside technology will sell the most units. The way people/families live and work today will shape the framework for choosing features and functionality for developers going forward. I’ve spent some time thinking about this and have come up with four imperatives for success.

  • WiFi access, to allow users access to the web, e-mail, blogs, anything that is on the Internet
  • Support for the online community/social networking world by allowing photos and video to be viewed, selected, edited and uploaded. This real time journaling feature is one of the main reasons to have one of these appliances
  • Provide a rich and fun experience for kids, easy switching to the kids account that is sanitized through parental controls
  • Lightweight, rugged, long battery life, and a simple, easy to use interface for all members of the family


I recently had the opportunity to briefly play with one of these new appliances the Eee PC. It is manufactured by ASUSTeK Computer Inc. and sells for under $400. It is white, small and rugged. The software window is displayed on a 7″ screen that is bright and easy to see. The interface has tabs allowing the user to select, Internet, work, learn or play spaces on the screen. This makes it simple to know where to begin. It constantly seeks a WiFi signal and will easily join so you are up and running with a Firefox web browser. You can check e-mail, update your blog, or keep tabs on your friends on Facebook.


It runs on Linux, but they indicate it’s Microsoft XP compatible. I found it relatively easy to use, but a little difficult to control the cursor with the thumb pad. The keyboard has a full set of keys, but because it is hardened, there isn’t much feel when you are typing. You can load on your digital photos and and video clips and upload them. There are also a nice selection of games. You can store music as well. The flash drive size is limited to either 2G, 4G or 8G.

I can easily see myself tossing it into the car for a road trip to keep kids entertained as well as using it myself to update a blog or photos site. Could also serve as a first computer for younger kids, since it is small, lightweight and can keep up with them. I wouldn’t call it a productivity tool, but that’s alright (we have enough of those already) as this milepost is very promising.

The web site that promotes the Eee PC can be found here. It is full of slow loading flash and it is not easy to navigate around from section to section. They are missing an opportunity here. I would also say the product name is not memorable, and the company name even less so.