Hinter Gatherers

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iCloud comes at a good time for those who have skated along on disaster’s edge from theft, pestilence, and rampant stupidity. I could blame my teenaged daughter for rendering her aging MacBookPro useless, but the truth is I’ve never backed up anything in my life until it’s too late. Her penchant for what the kids call music these days has brought the machine to its knees, but my affair with iOS devices is really the culprit.

With a new iPhone 4s arriving Friday and me leaving for the Gartner Symposium Sunday, I had barely a day to make the iOS 5 transition once the overheated servers calmed down enough to let me in. As soon as iOS 5 booted, I heard from my daughter, who’d resurfaced from months of invisibility in her downstairs room/bed and breakfast. Daddy do I get my iPhone 4 back, she queried with a big helpful what can I do to make your life better gleam in her eye.

She had been making due with a Nexus One for months while waiting for another shot at a third iPhone 4 (don’t ask) and wanted to restore her “music”, apps, and contacts from her backup. Unfortunately her laptop had remained unopened for months during the Nexus One period, and was actually running with 32 megs when I first saw it. In other words, just seconds away from a system panic and a reinstall of the OS. My 24 hour window just went to zero.

The first thing that went was an instance of my identity where I’d parked some old audio and video files. That bought just enough space to let me know I couldn’t update iTunes, a requirement for upgrading to iOS 5. After some difficult negotiations I convinced my daughter to park her picture directory on another machine. 9 gigabytes and 3hours later, I had the teenager on her way.

Suffice it to say, there were other minefields awaiting with the rest of the household’s collection of iPhones and iPads. My younger daughter had done her homework and was loaded with bear with a list of hidden iOS 5 settings and features that she was desperate to try out first on her sister’s phone and then on her own once upgraded. I was beginning to wonder when Comcast was going to start slowing down as each device started uploading to iCloud. With 8 devices to be updated (wife, 2 daughters, me) the WiFi slowed to a crawl as the time ran out.

In the end my wife will wait until I return or we hire a personal IT guy. Same with both daughters whose iPads will wait. But already I’m seeing the outlines of a different future. First, Siri is already changing everything about the way I store data. I’m editing contacts to make them easier to find with voice commands, tossing out duplicates and consolidating information on one master. The Notes app is suddenly useful, as is the Reminders tool and especially the Clock alarm. I’m learning to make sure to specify AM when I schedule an alarm, even though it would be intuitive for it to default that way.

It doesn’t work that way now, but how about opening Spotify and downloading music for offline on the plane with a Siri command. The Concur app knows what time my flight is so it could set the alarm all by itself. With Location turned on, it could check off the Reminder as done when I leave the house and trigger another reminder when I land. Right now this stuff is fun and all, but behind the scenes my workflow is being fundamentally altered.

At the center of this transformation is the notification queue and the integration of the social @mention cloud. Each of us has a series of processes that imply other processes; they all are informed and eventually coordinated by the implications of the social graph. Once you build up enough history and so do your friends, family, and colleagues, the metadata surrounding the decision tree we travel forms patterns that our networks use to make recommendations more intelligent.

The smarts in Siri turn out to be about context, all the more powerful as the service flows through apps. Regular updates will give developers impetus to wire in their app to the notification bus. Shouldn’t a New York times alert also search the major news sites for live video as it happens? I’d pay more for a notification-aware app, and even more for an uber notification routing service that I can teach to personalize my account according to the metadata of me, my cloud of follows, and the followers of those follows.

Already there are a few services that begin to provide various cuts at this kind of media curation: News.me mixed with Techmeme mixed with @mention-curated streams gets very close to a realtime news service that outperforms news aggregation sites and private newsletters. As Gabe Rivera demonstrated this week, an authoritative Twitter conversation swarm emerged around the debunking of a Wall Street Journal article suggesting a possible top in the venture capital markets. Blogs supplemented the event rather than drive it.

It’s easy to laugh off this change as inside baseball. But just as Siri plus iCloud moves us rapidly into an on-demand living document world, so too does the social curation of Tweetmemes accelerate intelligent parsing of multiple notification streams. When we start changing our behavior to accelerate the efficiency of voice prompting, we move away from email and documents to active objects that accept social signals as training hints for a dynamic self-tuning service. More hints, more tuning, more tuning, more hints. Eventually a market develops for the intuitively endowed hinters. Hinter gatherers, so to speak.