Google, Yahoo Struggle with Technology Innovation

March 30, 2011

Old vs. NewGoogle is taking a slice from Apple’s strategy, bringing back company co-founder Larry Page to ignite innovation at Google, where the stock has flatlined for the past year. Page is scheduled to take over next week as CEO from Eric Schmidt, who is reportedly under consideration for the Secretary of Commerce position in U.S. President Barack Obama’s cabinet.

It’s often difficult for mature companies to innovate the way startups do. For one thing, they lack the financial compulsion that drives entrepreneurs to market or die. Look at how News Corp. has shouldered losses at MySpace while Facebook restlessly innovates, or what happened to AOL after the merger with Time Warner, or what might happen to The Huffington Post now that it has been acquired by AOL. Google can afford to simply hold onto a company such as YouTube without the pace of self-improvement often seen in startups.

Amir Efrati, who covers the Internet for The Wall Street Journal, has been stirring things up in Silicon Valley this past week with fascinating reports on attempts by Google and Yahoo to stay innovative. In an article last Saturday, Efrati used unnamed sources to speculate that Larry Page is being called back to “speed up what [Page] says has been sluggish decision-making at Google’s top levels.”

One of Page’s new edicts, according to The Wall Street Journal, is face-to-face bullpen sessions:

… [E]very afternoon, [Page] and the company’s executive officers sit and work on small couches outside a boardroom in Building 43 at Google’s headquarters.

That might have worked when Page left the company in 2001, with 200 employees. Whether it will work 10 years later, with over 100 times as many people on the payroll, remains to be seen.

The difficulty of fostering innovation in mature companies is one of the main drivers behind the Minitrends project at Technology Futures, Inc., the Austin, Texas, technology forecasting firm and publisher of the book, MINITRENDS, and this blog. The authors devote a significant portion of the book to fostering innovation in large corporations:

Fewer than 30 percent of the companies listed on the Fortune 100 twenty-five years ago are still on the list today. Often the primary reason for the demise of such companies has been a failure to recognize and react to changing trends.

One of the ways that companies innovate is through acquisition rather than invention. Efrati generated a second round of buzz this week when he quoted Yahoo’s director of development, Steven Mitzenmacher, on The Wall Street Journal‘s Digits blog as saying Google’s investment in YouTube was “crazy.” It’s an odd comment, given YouTube’s burgeoning revenues and the fact that Yahoo is embarking on a buying binge to remain relevant.

Savvy institutional investing reporter, Riley McDermid, follows the fallout from Page’s return to Google in an insightful article at VentureBeat. Always one step ahead of the competition, McDermid managed to write about The Wall Street Journal‘s article a day before the article appeared. It’s hard to keep up with futurists!

So where do large corporations find the stimulation they need to stay at the forefront of technology trends? Among the resources mentioned in MINITRENDS are innovation competitions and working papers. Among the best examples of where to find both is the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), which held its version of “March Madness” — an innovation competition — in Washington, D.C., last Saturday.

The NCIIA competition is sponsored by companies that are working to stay competitive and rewarding innovation in education. The NCIIA has already published all the conference papers online, for free; they contain a treasure-trove of ideas for mature companies looking for a little stimulation or entrepreneurs looking for adventure.

If you prefer to watch rather than read, we recommend you screen the videos submitted to the NCIIA’s “Open Mind” Awards and nicely catalogued by David Orsman at Inventors Digest. It’s by doing research like this that you are likely to find the Larry Pages and Steve Jobs of tomorrow, who will set the technology trends that others follow.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Obama Nears Appointment Of Eric Schmidt As Commerce Secretary,” BusinessInsider, March 18, 2011
Source: “At Google, Page Aims to Clear Red Tape,” The Wall Street Journal,” March 26, 2011
Source: “Larry Page already cracking the whip at Google, a week before he takes the reins,” VentureBeat, March 25, 2011
Source: “Yahoo Executive Talks Acquisitions, Slams YouTube Buy,” The Wall Street Journal‘s Digits Blog, March 28, 2011
Source: “The Open Minds Awards: Taking Innovation off Campus & into Commercialization,” Inventors Digest, Feb. 18, 2011
Photo courtesy of Jeff Keyzer (mightyohm), used under its Creative Commons license.

Business Model Trends – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

March 22, 2011

Kevin Rose, Bill Gates and Nathan Mhyrvold

Kevin Rose of Digg, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures at the TED Conference (Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson).

Two days before an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck Japan, resulting in a devastating tsunami and near meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, we wrote on this blog about “the growing interest in nuclear power” as an alternative to coal fired power plants.


While nuclear power-generating facilities have been greatly improved since the Fukushima reactors were built — and the prospects for nuclear energy in the future are still bright — the timing is bad. The prospects for nuclear energy in the short term have dimmed as the costs associated with using that technology are being recalculated.

That wasn’t the only thing wrong with my blog post. A reader called my attention to the case against venture capitalist Nathan Myhrvold’s company, Intellectual Ventures. Myhrvold is the former chief technology officer of Microsoft whose new company invests in technology rather than investing in companies. Intellectual Ventures buys the rights to patents it likes, then markets those patents to other firms. Or does it?

According to Mike Masnick, the prolific and outspoken editor of TechDirt, Myhrvold’s venture is not based on marketing patents but on “shaking down” companies by suing anyone using its patents without permission. Masnick accuses Intellectual Ventures of disguising its true business model by using shell companies to file the lawsuits:

[Intellectual Ventures] had decided to protect its brand name by getting other companies or creating those companies itself, giving the patent to those other companies that no one had ever heard of, and having them sue.


While we did praise Myhrvold’s business plan on this blog, his method for picking technologies to invest in was our focus, not his manner of collecting on those investments. However, without beating up on ourselves too much, we should point out that another company with a strikingly similar business plan has been the recipient of tremendous admiration in the media these past few weeks.

I’m speaking of ARM, the technology company behind the low-heat computer chips used in Apple’s iPhone and iPad, along with many other smartphones and tablets. The company is not bashful about its creative structure:

ARM has an innovative business model. Instead of bearing the costs associated with manufacturing, we license our technology to a network of partners, mainly leading semiconductor manufacturers and OEMs. These partners utilise our designs to create smart, low energy chips suitable for modern electronic devices.

This structure — licensing technology rather than manufacturing it — has led to a gross margin for ARM of 94%. With revenue of $631 million in 2010, ARM had a profit of $593 million. You have to envy that ratio, no matter what business you’re in.

ARM’s business model is similar to Intellectual Venture’s stated mission, yet while Myhrvold is the recipient of scorn from TechDirt and others, ARM is getting nothing but love these days. Renown technology strategist, Michael J. Fern, gushes over ARM’s business model, saying it confers “three significant advantages over Intel.”

The Wall Street Journal joined the praise parade, with University of Chicago-trained economist and new “Heard on the Street” columnist, Rolfe Winkler, noting “ARM… doesn’t have to deal with manufacturing costs or the risks of holding inventory. It’s a deeply profitable business.”

The best take on ARM’s business model, from a Minitrends perspective, comes from the recent article by Om Malik at the influential blog, GigaOM. In a post critical of Twitter’s business model, the highly-respected tech journalist compares and contrasts the business models of half-a-dozen tech companies, including Xerox, Apple, Google, and ARM. Relying heavily on the work of business guru Alex Osterwalder, Malik concludes that “the business model innovation is what turns great products into fearsome companies.”

Sometimes, the most beautiful business models can turn ugly down the road. I was teaching a workshop once when a perplexed attendee kept interrupting with questions. “How do you generate sales,” he asked. “I don’t have sales,” I answered, “I only have expenses. All I have to do is cover my expenses.”

I was describing the workings of a technology startup that made videos of businesses without charging those businesses. Costs were recouped by finding sponsors to cover the expenses. The fellow in the back of the room couldn’t understand the business model and, as it turns out, neither could investors or sponsors. An early online video play, the company died in 2008 for lack of revenue.

The clever idea of yesterday can seem brilliant or stupid a few years — or even a few days — later. That’s why, for your own Minitrends Adventure, we recommend spending as much time thinking about the business model as you do about the services or goods being sold.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Nathan Myhrvold on Uncovering and Investing in Technology Trends,” Mintrends Blog, March 9, 2011
Source: “Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures Using Over 1,000 Shell Companies To Hide Patent Shakedown,” TechDirt, Feb. 17, 2010
Source: “ARM Disrupting Intel with its Business Model?,” FernStrategy, March 10, 2011
Source: “Getting an ARM Up on Intel,” The Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2011
Source: “What Is Twitter’s Problem? No, It’s Not the Product,” GigaOM, March 8, 2011
Photo courtesy of Steve Jurvetson, used under its Creative Commons license.

Nathan Myhrvold on Uncovering and Investing in Technology Trends

March 9, 2011

Alan Murray interviews Nathan Myhrvold at The Wall Street Journal's ECO:nomics Conference

The Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray (left) interviews technology investor and former Microsoft chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold, at the ECO:nomics Conference. Click for video.

The Wall Street Journal recently concluded its fourth annual conference on environmental economics at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, California. Dubbed “ECO:nomics,” the Journal‘s invitation-only event offers a casual program of interviews and audience Q&A with corporate CEOs, venture capitalists, and government leaders.

Some of the technology trends revealed at this year’s conference include:

One of the highlights for those interested in Minitrends was Alan Murray’s interview with venture capitalist and former Microsoft chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold. The restless inventor shared the unique way in which his firm, Intellectual Ventures, invests in startups:

We invest in invention. Venture capitalists invest in companies…We try to invest in the actual idea…Someone will have already invented something; they won’t know what to do with it. We’ll take a controlling investment in that idea and maybe we can figure out what to do with it.

This is a different approach than most venture capitalists use: buying the technology rather than the organization. Myhrvold’s method of finding Minitrends is not so unique: “We’ll bring typically six to 10 people…in a room, and we’ll start brainstorming solutions…Usually, we come up with some solution, but often it’s not to the problem we posed. We then go through a process we call triage: Which of the ideas we generated are really worth pursuing?”

The triage process Myhrvold describes is similar to the vetting of Minitrends described in the book, MINITRENDS, by John and Carrie Vanston, a guide to identifying and exploiting business trends that are likely to bear fruit in two-to-five years.

The Wall Street Journal has been stingy making video or transcripts of the ECO:nomics conference available online. Such archives are usually fertile sources for Minitrends research. However, they have made one video segment with Nathan Myhrvold available, along with the newspaper’s “special report” coverage of ECO:nomics 2010 (PDF) and 2011 (website).

One final trend worth noting. Previously on this blog, we’ve mentioned the fashion trend that venture capitalists don’t wear neckties. It appears this year the trend has spread to CEOs. Virtually none of the CEOs speaking at the ECO:nomics conference wore ties, in contrast to just a few years ago, when the majority did. It seems the only holdouts in the necktie department are elected officials and other bureaucrats. Chief executives of the world, untie!

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “The Next Smart Thing,” The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2011
Source: “Environmentalists spar over nuclear power,” MarketWatch, March 4, 2011
Source: “Ford Giving Up on EVs? Not Quite,” The Green Optimistic, March 7, 2011
Source: “Making Green Green,” Santa Barbara Independent, March 7, 2011
Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, used under fair use: commentary.

What’s On TV? Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Google…

December 7, 2010

FightLast week, we wrote about the growing trend of consumers “cutting the cord” and switching from watching broadcast or cable television to watching streaming TV through the Internet from the likes of Netflix and Hulu. This week, things are getting ugly. Broadcast and cable companies are fighting back while Amazon and other competitors prepare to enter the couch-potato war.

Let’s start with what some are calling “The Death of Net Neutrality.” At the end of November, Comcast looked at the amount of Netflix data it was sending to Comcast subscribers and decided it wasn’t being paid enough to handle it. Comcast insisted on a surcharge from Level 3, a company that processes Netflix streams.

Level 3 cried “foul,” and squealed about the surcharge to all who would listen, including the feds, who are currently evaluating Comcast’s proposed takeover of NBC Universal. Comcast then issued a “wait just one minute” statement telling its side of the story. Both Level 3’s punch and Comcast’s counterpunch are covered crisply by Mark Huffman at Within days, Level 3 issued a “clarification” of its position. An apology? No! A rebuttal of Comcast and a repeat that this is a stickup on the information superhighway.

For the lowdown on this shakedown, you couldn’t ask for a better guide than Scott Woolly, who covered technology for Forbes before becoming a contributing editor at Fortune. Covering the fracas for M.I.T. Technology Review, Woolly says:

The history of fights between big networks indicates that one of two things will soon happen in the Comcast-Level 3 fight. Either the two companies will privately settle their differences, or they will start an all-out war that balkanizes the Internet — what is known in the trade as ‘depeering.’

But the Comcast surcharge means little to Netflix compared to the bomb dropped in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, where reporters Nick Wingfield and Sam Schechner came out of nowhere with this scoop: Inc. is developing a Netflix-like subscription service that would offer TV shows and movies, according to people familiar with the matter.

This comes just two weeks after Netflix moved onto Amazon’s cloud, which is a little roomier now that Amazon has booted WikiLeaks off the cloud. And if that isn’t bad enough, over the weekend, Google purchased Netflix supplier Widevine, a digital video management company. Widevine optimizes the streaming of Netflix videos over the Internet. The acquisition will help Google TV in its battle against Apple TV, Netflix, and, coming soon, Amazon TV.

Just when you thought it was safe to cut the cord, you look around and realize everyone has a knife in this fight. Right now, most of them are pointed at Netflix.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Netflix Supplier Complains About Comcast Fees,”, 11/30/10
Source: “Level 3 ‘Clarifies’ Position On Comcast Fees,”, 12/06/10
Source: “Peer Pressures Could Strain the Web,” M.I.T. Technology Review, 12/06/10
Source: “No Longer Tiny, Netflix Gets Respect — and Creates Fear,” The Wall Street Journal, 12/06/10
Source: “Google buys Widevine to beef up DRM offering,” Fortune, 12/06/10
Photo by Mark Robinson (me’nthedogs), used under its Creative Commons license.

Is Google a Monopoly? EC Launches Investigation

December 2, 2010

We monitor technology trends on this blog. One of the biggest tech trends of late is accusing Google of having a monopoly, or monopolies (plural), which begs the question of what, exactly, Google has a monopoly over? Most of the accusations center around search.

Google ‘owns’ search,” says Columbia Law Professor, Tim Wu, in a November 13 piece for The Wall Street Journal‘s WSJ “Review” section. Wu’s new book, The Master Switch, is sounding the “Google as monopoly” bell which rang loudly before the U.S. Presidential elections in 2008 but has quieted down since.

Wu’s definition of “ownership” is quite a bit looser than a pure monopoly. Google “owns” less than two-thirds of the search market, according to ComScore. In June of this year, Google held 62.6% of search queries; Yahoo held 18.9%; and Microsoft’s Bing has grown to an impressive 12.7%. Having a dominant position in a field with few barriers to entry is not a monopoly. Just ask MySpace.

Two days ago, however, the accusations that Google has a monopoly moved from the rhetoric to real threat as the European Commission opened an investigation into whether Google has abused its position as the dominant search engine by intentionally skewing search results to benefit entities it owns. From the EC’s press release announcing inquiry launch:

The Commission will investigate whether Google has abused a dominant market position in online search by allegedly lowering the ranking of unpaid search results of competing services which are specialised in providing users with specific online content such as price comparisons (so-called vertical search services) and by according preferential placement to the results of its own vertical search services in order to shut out competing services. The Commission will also look into allegations that Google lowered the ‘Quality Score’ for sponsored links of competing vertical search services. The Quality Score is one of the factors that determine the price paid to Google by advertisers.

The argument here is not that Google is a monopoly because of its size. Rather, that Google has used illegal means to penalize competitors, which is what eventually gets so-called monopolies in trouble. I have long suspected that Google Blog Search favors blogs on the Google-owned Blogger/BlogSpot platform over rival WordPress. The EC review is based on favoring Google’s price comparison results over rival Foundem.

Two Google vice presidents have posted a response to the EC’s announcement on the Google Public Policy Blog, but they do not dispute the EC’s claim of favoritism. It was Microsoft’s exclusionary sales contracts that required PC makers to install its operating system and not competing software that got the software maker into antitrust trouble, not its market share.

As long as consumers have access to alternatives, does Google really have a monopoly on search? Does Facebook have a monopoly on social networking? The same could have been said of MySpace three years ago. MySpace has suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for owner News Corp. Facebook could fade just as fast and, believe it or not, so could Google. In a previous post on this blog, we cited Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker as noting that seven of the top 15 Internet companies by market capitalization in 2004 are not in the top 15 today.

The primary reason for the demise of [Fortune 100] companies has been a failure to recognize and react to changing trends.

Those words come from the new book, MINITRENDS, by futurist John Vanston with Carrie Vanston. One of the main reasons the Vanstons wrote this book was to give large companies a formula for staying innovative. It’s easy for entrepreneurs to pioneer new ideas, and often much harder for those ideas to come from within giant organizations. But it can be done, and MINITRENDS provides a process these giants can use to identify and develop new methods and markets.

It has been Microsoft’s argument against the antitrust regulators that, absent criminal barriers to entry, its businesses are open to competition and subject to decline unless Microsoft continually innovates. Bill Gates, who is no stranger to the issues now facing Google, lashed out at Matt Ridley, author of the new book, The Rational Optimist, in last weekend’s WSJ Review:

Like many other authors who write about innovation, Mr. Ridley suggests that all innovation comes from new companies, with no contribution from established companies. As you might expect, I disagree with this view.

Gates knows that Facebook’s advertising network could upend Google’s fragile hold over the online advertising market, and that Facebook itself could fade as fast as MySpace did in a matter of a few years. For those companies who hope to stay ahead of the game, as Apple and Microsoft have consistently done, MINITRENDS provides a way of nurturing innovation — a process that itself is a significant innovation — in the quest to remain competitive.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “In the Grip of the New Monopolists,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/13/10
Source: “Search engine Bing gains market share,” BBC Technology News, 07/14/10
Source: “Antitrust: Commission probes allegations of antitrust violations by Google,” EUROPA Press Releases, 11/30/10
Source: “MySpace losses lead way down for News Corp.,” Los Angeles Times, 08/05/09
Source: MINITRENDS: How Innovators & Entrepreneurs Discover & Profit From Business & Technology Trends, Technology Futures, Inc., p. 13.
Source: “Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/27/10
Image by cambodia4kidsorg, used under its Creative Commons license.

New Employment Trend: No Employment

November 19, 2010

A pair of stories in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, November 19, illustrate a growing trend for startup companies: avoiding hiring any employees.

Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Mark Whitehouse, who recently joined the Journal‘s New York office as a senior economics correspondent after years working in Russia, profiled financial analysis startup, MCAP Research, in Montclair, New Jersey, which epitomizes the lean, new startup environment by eschewing any significant capital investments or hiring employees.

The firm was started two years ago by Efrem Meretab, a native of Eritrea, who gave up his job as a stock analyst to open the ultra-lean company. Whitehouse says,

His experience demonstrates how advances in technology and communications are allowing some small companies to sell products world-wide without creating many jobs in the U.S. or spending much money on things made in the U.S.

Whitehouse cites two main factors driving the company’s lean profile: outsourcing programming to the Ukraine and Pakistan while taking advantage of Amazon’s cloud instead of purchasing servers. We have discussed the trend toward cloud computing in many posts on this blog, but never for the solopreneur.

A related story also written by Mark Whitehouse with Justin Lahart, a former CNN/Money correspondent who covers economics for the Journal, reports that startups are not contributing to the growth in employment usually associated with periods of economic recovery.

The number of companies with at least one employee fell by 100,000, or 2%, in the year that ended March 31, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That was the second worst performance in 18 years, the worst being the 3.4% drop in the previous year.

Startups were first hammered by the recession, with more closing that opening since 2008, then strangled by tight capital markets. Angel investing still has not recovered, according to the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire, which reports that less has been invested in the first half of 2010 than during the recession years of 2008 and 2009.

In their new book, MINITRENDS, John and Carrie Vanston devote a significant portion of the book to new business opportunities serving a growing work-at-home workforce. In a previous post on this blog, we discussed how cloud computing has enabled temp agencies to apply the same just-in-time inventory to the workforce that auto companies have brought to manufacturing.

Without capital to grow their businesses, and with access to a global marketplace of contract workers, companies have learned to prosper by renting rather than buying assets and outsourcing services. If the Vanstons are correct — and their track record (PDF) on such predictions is excellent — the solopreneur will no longer be a trend coming out of this recession but the new standard operating procedure.

We welcome your thoughts about this ultra-lean method of bootstrapping high-tech businesses.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Starting a Global Business, With No U.S. Employees,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/19/10
Source: “Few Businesses Sprout, With Even Fewer Jobs,” The Wall Street Journal, 11/19/10
Photo courtesy of psd (Paul Downey), used under its Creative Commons license.

Is Microsoft’s Kinect the New Trend in Advertiser Black Ops?

November 16, 2010

KinectThe chief operating officer for Microsoft’s Xbox division ignited a firestorm of controversy last week when he told a room full of digital entertainment investors about the capabilities of the Xbox’s revolutionary new motion controller, Kinect, to target advertising based on what built-in cameras see.

Kinect launched November 4 as a hands-free device for playing video games. Unlike other video game consoles, such as Wii and PlayStation, Kinect allows users to play Xbox games without having to hold a motion-detecting controller. Kinect senses your motions using multiple cameras and infrared detectors.

Dan Gallagher, technology editor for The Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch subsidiary, reported on Dennis Durkin’s remarks on the Journal‘s Digits blog last Thursday. Gallagher quotes Durkin as saying that Microsoft “can cater which content we present to you based on who you are.” The Journal, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns Fox News among many other media assets, has become an unlikely privacy champion after the newspaper’s “What They Know” series last July blew the lid off privacy invasions by the Internet’s top websites.

Immediately after the unfavorable coverage in The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft issued a statement contradicting Durkin’s remarks. The statement, which strangely does not appear on Microsoft’s Xbox Press page, reads in part:

Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE do not use any information captured by Kinect for advertising targeting purposes.

However, other websites have published more of Dennis Durkin’s remarks, and it appears unlikely that his remarks at the BMO Capital Markets Digital Entertainment Conference were a simple slip of the tongue.

Bill Levine at TopTechNews quotes the Xbox CEO as stating the controller can tell “how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown,” and that it can use “face recognition and voice recognition” to determine such things as the gender of players, whether or not they are standing, and how excited they are.

Molly McHugh at the Digital Trends blog quotes Durkin as stating flatly that data gathered by the Xbox’s cameras can be used to customize ads. Microsoft can “be more targeted about what content choices we present; what advertising we present….”

The capabilities of the Xbox Kinect to spy on users and then use that information to customize ads is part of a growing technology trend. The screens we watch at home and at work are now watching us — and using that information to customize the content and the ads we see.

In September, two of The Wall Street Journal‘s correspondents in Japan, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Juro Osawa, reported on a futuristic vending machine in a train station there that uses cameras to determine the gender and age of people using the vending machine. The machine then recommends selections based on that information.

The vending machine, manufactured by NEC, records such things as which people looked at which items, who bought what, and how “engaged” they were with the display. According to the Journal‘s reporters:

The company said its system can identify people’s gender correctly about 90% of the time and guess a person’s age within a 10-year range about 70% of the time.

The Journal notes that there are few, if any, laws governing the collection, storage, and use of images and information gathered by such devices. The technology is expected to show up in retailers’ window displays soon. Those displays will change the merchandise being shown depending on who is looking at them.

These kinds of invasions of privacy were anticipated in the new book, MINITRENDS, by John & Carrie Vanston. The authors suggest that privacy protection will be one of the booming technology trends in the coming two-to-five years, and devote a significant portion of the book to describing opportunities for entrepreneurs in this rapidly evolving segment of the economy.

What do you think about store displays that watch you and record your image and actions as you shop? Do you think they should be allowed? Do you think they can be stopped? Do you see any technologies coming in the next two to five years that could protect people from these devices? We’re anxious to hear your comments on these matters.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Is Your Xbox Console Watching You?The Wall Street Journal, 11/12/10
Source: “Big Brother Kinect Could Be Watching You at Home,” TopTechNews, 11/12/10
Source: “Kinect’s camera could record data for advertisers,” Digital Trends, 11/12/10
Source: “Billboards That Can See You,” The Wall Street Journal, 09/03/10
Image courtesy of quatro.sinko, used under its Creative Commons license.

Trends in Nanotechnology: Killing Cancer with Light

October 5, 2010

Laser light

On page 133 of MINITRENDS, Dr. John Vanston describes an interesting experiment in killing cancer cells with light therapy:

A very interesting application of nanotechnology in the medical field is a treatment for cancer currently being developed commercially by BioSpectra. This treatment is based on research developed by Rice University and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Institute. When reduced to nano-size, the color of gold depends on the size of the particles, e.g., red, blue or green. In this treatment process, gold particles of a size that corresponds to visible light are attached to biological molecules that migrate to the location of the cancer. The patient is then subjected to a beam of light of the matching color. The energy of the light is deposited in the gold particles, raising the temperature, and burning up the cancerous cells. Visible light can penetrate about 15 centimeters (roughly, six inches) into the body without damaging non-cancerous tissue, contrary to current radiation treatments.

Light therapy has a growing number of uses in the medical field. While the increasing use of light in medicine is a “megatrend,” the particular applications that are coming online in the next few years are Minitrends. These include not only using light to kill unwanted cells, but also to detect them.

Anne Trafton, a biologist and science journalist writing in MIT News, reports on the efforts of MIT researcher Geoffrey von Maltzahn and Harvard-MIT researcher Sangeeta Bhatia to use gold nanorods as a cancer detection tool. Trafton explains how the process works:

Gold nanoparticles can absorb different frequencies of light, depending on their shape. Rod-shaped particles, such as those used by von Maltzahn and Bhatia, absorb light at near-infrared frequency; this light heats the rods but passes harmlessly through human tissue.

The nanorods’ homing abilities also make them a promising tool for diagnosing tumors. After the particles are injected, they can be imaged using a technique known as Raman scattering. Any tissue that lights up, other than the liver or spleen, could harbor an invasive tumor.

Last week, Katia Moskvitch, a Canadian science writer working for the BBC, reported on advances in “Raman spectroscopy,” a method for using light in diagnostics. Raman spectroscopy can rapidly analyze the molecular composition of tissue and bone, detecting abnormalities. Moskovitch interviews University of Michigan researcher, Michael Morris, who says:

Raman gives you a molecular fingerprint, a composition of whatever it is you’re measuring. In diseased states, the chemical composition is either slightly abnormal or very markedly abnormal, depending upon the diseases.

The hope is to conduct diagnostics without needle sticks, blood drawing, or incisions. One of the most sought-after applications is a glucose meter for diabetics, with which the patients would only have to shine a light to their skin, rather than having to prick themselves to draw blood. Shirley S. Wang, a clinical psychologist from Yale University, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that researchers at the G.R. Harrison Spectroscopy Lab at MIT hope to have a wearable diabetes monitor within two to five years.

These are some of the many interesting uses of light in medicine that show promise for development in the near future.

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “Painless laser device could spot early signs of disease,” BBC News, 09/26/10
Source: “Targeting tumors using tiny gold particles,” MIT News, 05/04/09
Source: “Researchers Beaming at Light’s Medical Uses,” The Wall Street Journal, 08/31/10
Image by alanymchan, used under Creative Commons license.

From Fashion Trends to Nanotech Trends with The Wall Street Journal

September 30, 2010

The Wall Street Journal

After enduring “Fashion Week” taking over the pages of The Wall Street Journal, culminating in The Journal‘s brief and scary transformation to WSJ last weekend, I was beginning to look for another daily source of technology news. The Journal has always been good at spotting tech trends. The “newspaper of record for business” redeemed itself with a special report Monday on The Journal’s 2010 Technology Innovation Awards.

Many of the dozens of winners and runners-up were nanotechnology companies. Echoing my previous report on nanotechnology in water treatment projects, The Wall Street Journal bestowed the Environmental Award to NanoH2O, Inc., for “a nanotechnology-based, reverse-osmosis membrane that promises to reduce the cost of running a typical desalination plant by as much as 25%.”

Many of the awards went to filtration systems, the ones that clean water or clean computers, and those that can turn our waste into useful products in particular. The winner of the Energy Award is InEnTech, LLC, for a plazma gassification process for generating fuel from municipal and industrial waste.

The Gold Winner was a think tank in Taiwan, the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), which won the award for an elegant process for making thin, flexible video displays. The Wall Street Journal‘s San Francisco news editor, Michael Totty, says the idea for the paper-thin process came from watching pancakes being made. You never know where those Minitrends will strike you!

Better video walked away with the Semiconductor Award as well. InVisage Technologies, Inc., won the award for sensors in digital cameras that use “semiconducting nanocrystals” to collect much more light than digital cameras using silicon sensors. The result:

The product, InVisage says, captures more than 90% of available light, compared with 25% for a silicon-based sensor.

Cambrios Technology Corp. also got a nod from The Wall Street Journal. The company was listed as a runner-up for the Materials Award for a coating of nanowires that makes possible a cheaper, more flexible, touch-sensitive coating for touch screens.

Here we have four winners, and four different approaches to capitalizing on developments in nanotechnology. The book, MINITRENDS, has an excellent chapter devoted to trends in nanotechnology, including water purification and fake bone!

Many of these nanotechnology breakthroughs will become profitable in the next two to five years, making them classic “Minitrends.” For a look a little further into the future, The Wall Street Journal interviewed Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health, about nanotechnology in healthcare:

[M]edicine is about to redefine ‘minimally invasive,’ says Francis Collins… ‘The drug-delivery devices are small enough to fit through a hypodermic needle.’

The Wall Street Journal will honor this year’s Innovation Award winners at the FASTech conference in Redwood City, California, on Wednesday and Thursday, November 3 and 4. The event promises to be a schmoozefest, with entrepreneurs courting venture capitalists and investment bankers, and everyone mugging for the media. It should be a good venue for bagging some Minitrends. Happy Hunting!

News Editor, Minitrends Blog

Source: “The WSJ Technology Innovation Awards,” The Wall Street Journal, 09/27/10.