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David S. Rose

By 2045, human beings will become a new species, half human, half machine.

Or so futurist Ray Kurzweil believes. He argues that by looking at the how tech is being developed that one day we will sort of merge with machines and society will reach a state of "technological singularity."

That's because, in part, computer processors double in speed every year while they get increasingly smaller. One day, we'll inject tiny computers into our bodies like medicine or add them to our brains to make us smarter. 

In the meantime, tech is always getting faster, cheaper, and spreading to more markets and industries. And this creates a lot of opportunity for startups, until the day when we all turn into cyborgs.

"Because of this totally changing nature of society and the community business world, any company designed to succeed in the 20th century almost by definition has to fail in the 21st century," David S. Rose, Associate Founder of Singularity U and founder at Gust, tells Business Insider.

So what does that mean for startups today?

In order to prepare for the singularity, Rose says, entrepreneurs need to figure out what technology will change and over how long, determine what effect that technology will have on a particular market, figure out what holes there will be to fill, and then actually build a business that will intercept that market hole when it comes around.

Amazon, Rose says, is the perfect example of a company that built a business with the singularity in mind.  

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos foresaw a world where there was no longer a need for physical bookstores, so he decided to build one online. Once Bezos nailed down the distribution side of books, he had to start thinking about ways that competitors could kill his business. Given that the cost of storage, networks, and other digital technologies were dropping, Bezos realized the potential in digital books.  

Enter the Kindle.

Instead of waiting for a company like Apple to take him out, Bezos took himself out.

"He deliberately shot himself in the foot because he knew that if he didn't do it, someone else would," Rose says.

And someone eventually did. Apple announced in 2009 that it would be coming out with an iPad, and shortly after that, the tech industry proclaimed that the Kindle would die, but it didn't

Even though Amazon doesn't release its exact number of Kindle sales, the company has continued to expand its Kindle lineup and announced in November that worldwide Kindle device sales over the holiday shopping weekend doubled

Obviously, Amazon continues to face competition from the likes of Apple and Google. But Amazon is the perfect example of what a Singularity-focused business looks like, Rose says. 

In short, here's how startups should prepare for the Singularity moving forward:

  • Figure out where the ball will be a few years down the road.
  • Determine how to hit that ball when it arrives.
  • Figure out what could potentially take you out, and then take yourself out. 

SEE ALSO: Here's What Futurist Ray Kurzweil Thinks Life Will Be Like In The Next 20 Years

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DeptofDepartments writes "With Kindles and ebooks on everyone's lips (sc. hands) nowadays, this might come as a surprise to some, but besides being a techie, I have also amassed quite a collection of actual books (mostly hardcover and first editions) in my personal library. I have always been reluctant to lend them out and the collection has grown so large now that it has become difficult to keep track of all of them. This is why I am looking for a modern solution to implement some professional-yet-still-home-sized library management. Ideally, this should include some cool features like RFID tags or NFC for keeping track of the books, finding and checking them out quickly, if I decide to lend one." For more on what DeptofDepartments is looking for, read on below.

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According to an October eye tracking study, the iPad mini beats out the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, and Nook HD in terms of consumer fixation, consumer recognition, and purchase intent. 

This study, performed by EyeTrackShop, used the web cameras on 600 Americans' personal computers (with their consent, of course) to answer the question "How are new mini tablets perceived by consumers?"

Here's a graphic representing what the study found, in terms of where consumers are actually looking when they look at tablets (click to enlarge):

mini tablet eye track study

From left to right, the tablets shown are the Nexus 7, iPad mini, Kindle Fire HD, and Nook HD. The tablets were placed next to each other in a randomized order for each study respondent. This image shows the areas of interest on each screen according to the eye track results.

Here is the same image, this time shown as a heat map. The areas in red are the most looked-at areas of the screens.

Mini tablet eye track study

The study showed that the respondents fixated 5 percent more on the iPad mini, recognized the iPad mini 23 percent more, and that the iPad mini created a 40 percent higher purchase intent than the other three mini tablets.

Despite these statistics, the Nook had the largest high-heat area of interest, meaning respondents fixated on a larger area of the screen. The Nexus 7 had the smallest high-heat area, with the iPad mini and Kindle Fire having similar sized high-heat areas.

When presented with the four screens at once, respondents tended to look at the Kindle Fire first, then the Nexus 7, then the iPad, and finally the Nook. 

So while the iPad mini is recognized by 73 percent of consumers (23 percent more than the average of the tablets), respondents still fixated on a larger area of the Nook, and noticed the Kindle Fire first.

It's evidence that Apple has managed to create an extremely loyal consumer base that sticks to its products, and shuns other company's products, no matter how similar they may be.

Given the choice, over 50 percent of the respondents said they would choose the iPad mini over the others if they were shopping for a tablet, according to EyeTrackShop. That's 40 percent higher than the other tablets.

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If I had to make a list of the top 10 things I've done in my life that I regret, "writing a book" would definitely be on it. I took on the book project mostly because it was an opportunity to work with a few friends whose company I enjoy. I had no illusions going in about the rapidly diminishing value of technical books in an era of pervasive high speed Internet access, and the book writing process only reinforced those feelings.

In short, do not write a book. You'll put in mountains of effort for precious little reward, tangible or intangible. In the end, all you will have to show for it is an out-of-print dead tree tombstone. The only people who will be impressed by that are the clueless and the irrelevant.

As I see it, for the kind of technical content we're talking about, the online world of bits completely trumps the offline world of atoms:

  • It's forever searchable.
  • You, not your publisher, will own it.
  • It's instantly available to anyone, anywhere in the world.
  • It can be cut and pasted; it can be downloaded; it can even be interactive.
  • It can potentially generate ad revenue for you in perpetuity.

And here's the best part: you can always opt to create a print version of your online content, and instantly get the best of both worlds. But it only makes sense in that order. Writing a book may seem like a worthy goal, but your time will be better spent channeling the massive effort of a book into creating content online. Every weakness I listed above completely melts away if you redirect your effort away from dead trees and spend it on growing a living, breathing website presence online.

A few weeks ago, Hyperink approached me with a concept of packaging the more popular entries on Coding Horror, its "greatest hits" if you will, into an eBook. They seemed to have a good track record doing this with other established bloggers, and I figured it was time to finally practice what I've been preaching all these years. So you can now download Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code for an introductory price of $2.99. It's available in Kindle, iPad, Nook, and PDF formats.

 More Than Writing Code (Jeff Atwood)

I've written about the ongoing tension between bits and atoms recently, and I want to be clear: I am a fan of books. I'm just not necessarily a fan of writing them. I remain deeply cynical about current book publishing models, which feel fundamentally broken to me. No matter the price of the book, outside of J.K. Rowling, you're basically buying the author a drink.

As the author, you can expect to make about a dollar on every copy that sells. The publisher makes several times that, so they make a nice profit with as few as, say, five thousand copies sold. Books that sell ten or fifteen thousand are rare, and considered strong sellers. So let's say you strike gold. After working on your book for a year or more, are you going to be happy with a payday of ten to fifteen grand?

Incidentally, don't expect your royalty check right away. The publisher gets paid first, by the bookstores, and the publisher may then hold on to your money for several months before they part with any of it. Yes, this is legal: it's in the publisher's contract. Not getting paid may be a bummer for you, but it's a great deal for the publisher, since they make interest on the float (all the money they owe to their authors) - which is another profit stream. They'll claim one reason for the delay is the sheer administrative challenge of cutting a check within three months (so many authors to keep track of! so many payments!)... a less ridiculous reason is that they have to wait to see whether bookstores are going to return unsold copies of your book for a full refund.

Here's one real world example. John Resig sold 4,128 copies of Pro Javascript, for which he earned a grand total of $1.87 per book once you factor in his advance. This is a book which still sells for $29.54 on Amazon new.

Resig-book-check

Tellingly, John's second book seems permanently unfinished. It's been listed as "in progress" since 2008. Can't say I blame him. (Update: John explains.)

When I buy books, I want most of that money to go to the author, not the publishing middlemen. I'd like to see a world where books are distributed electronically for very little cost, and almost all the profits go directly to the author. I'm not optimistic this will happen any time soon.

I admire people willing to write books, but I honestly think you have to be a little bit crazy to sit down and pound out an entire book these days. I believe smaller units of work are more realistic for most folks. I had an epic email discussion with Scott Meyers about the merits of technical book publishing versus blogging in 2008, and I don't think either of us budged from our initial positions. But he did launch a blog to document some of his thoughts on the matter, which ended with this post:

My longer-term goal was to engage in a dialogue with people interested in the production of fast software systems such that I could do a better job with the content of [my upcoming book]. Doing that, however, requires that I write up reasonable initial blog posts to spur discussion, and I've found that this is not something I enjoy. To be honest, I view it as overhead. Given a choice between doing background research to learn more about a topic (typically reading something, but possibly also viewing a technical presentation, listening to a technical podcast, or exchanging email with a technical expert) or writing up a blog entry to open discussion, I find myself almost invariably doing the research. One reason for this is that I feel obliged to have done some research before I post, anyway, and I typically find that once I'm done with the research, writing something up as a standalone blog entry is an enterprise that consumes more time than I'm willing to give it. It's typically easier to write the result up in the form of a technical presentation, then give the presentation and get feedback that way.

Overhead? I find this attitude perplexing; the research step is indeed critical, but no less important than writing up your results as a coherent blog entry. If you can't explain the results of your research to others, in writing, in a way they can understand, you don't understand it. And if you aren't willing to publish your research in the form of a simple web page that anyone in the world can visit and potentially learn from, why did you bother doing that research in the first place? Are you really maximizing the value of your keystrokes? More selfishly, you should always finish by writing up your results purely for your own self-improvement, if nothing else. As Steve Yegge once said: "I have many of my best ideas and insights while blogging." Then you can take all that published writing, fold in feedback and comments from the community, add some editorial embellishment on top, and voilà – you have a great book.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that writing is just plain hard. Seth Godin's advice for authors still stands:

Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don't expect much.

Which, I think, is also good life advice in general. Maybe the easiest way to lower your expectations as an author is by attempting to write one or two blog entries a week, keep going as long as you can, and see where that takes you.

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The internet is disrupting many content-focused industries, and the publishing landscape is beginning its own transformation in response. Tools haven’t yet been developed to properly, semantically export long-form writing. Most books are encumbered by Digital Rights Management (DRM), a piracy-encouraging practice long since abandoned by the music industry. In the second article of a two-part series in this issue, Nick Disabato discusses the ramifications of these practices for various publishers and proposes a way forward, so we can all continue sharing information openly, in a way that benefits publishers, writers, and readers alike.

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ebooks are a new frontier, but they look a lot like the old web frontier, with HTML, CSS, and XML underpinning the main ebook standard, ePub. Yet there are key distinctions between ebook publishing’s current problems and what the web standards movement faced. The web was founded without an intent to disrupt any particular industry; it had no precedent, no analogy. E-reading antagonizes a large, powerful industry that’s scared of what this new way of reading brings—and they’re either actively fighting open standards or simply ignoring them. In part one of a two-part series in this issue, Nick Disabato examines the explosion in reading, explores how content is freeing itself from context, and mines the broken ebook landscape in search of business logic and a way out of the present mess.

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Originally posted in The Technium

On his blog Nick Carr spells out the typographic fixity of the classical paper book. It's a great exposition of all the attractive parts of the big fat heavy paper books. [The image below is of book tombstones.]

2010062705321876

I summarize his list of Four Fixities:

Fixity of the page -- The page stays the same. Whenever you pick it up, its' the same. You can count on it, and refer and cite it with certainty.

Fixity of the edition -- No matter which copy of the book you pick up, anywhere, it will be the same, so the fixed content is shared, and within an edition, the same always.

Fixity of the object -- Paper books last a very long time, and their text doesn't change as they age.

Sense of completeness -- A sense of finality and closure that became part of the attraction of literature.

These are very real, and very attractive qualities. And Carr is absolutely correct that they are some of the qualities that will disappear in ebooks, at least in the versions of ebooks we can see now. He is correct to point out that we will miss them, and that we should be aware of this loss as we chose what kind of books we buy or write.

Liquidbook

However, Carr did not list the corresponding downside/upside of ebooks, but there are Four Fluidities of the ebook:

Fluidity of the page — Can flow to fit any space, any where, any time.

Fluidity of the edition — Can be corrected or improved incrementally.

Fludity of the item — Can be kept in the cloud at such low cost that it is "free" to keep and constantly slipped to new "movage" platforms.

Sense of growth — The never-done-ness of an ebook (at least in the ideal) resembles a life more than a stone, animating us as creators and readers.

These are some of the things we gain. Will these fluidities be enough to outweigh the fixities we lose?

Finally, both of these character sets, of fixity and the fluidity, are driven by technology, of paper and electrons. Paper favors fixity, electrons favor fluidity. There is nothing to prevent us from inventing another technology of text, a third way, that might be "in-between" paper and electrons, or might have some of the qualities of the first set and some of the second. I am not convinced that these are binary qualities, nor do they have to only be extremes. It may be possible to invent fixed electronic books, or rigid ebooks, or sticky text in between.

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