Saturday, May 24, 2014

Meet the Social Economy

This is the new social economy where everybody is trusted.  If you break the rules, you break the trust, and you are out.

I got the call from my brother. “Don’t expect too much when you see the house.”  You see, three of us were gathering from the corners of the world to attend a University of Maryland graduation ceremony.  Tom flew over from Madrid, Josh drove up from Savannah, and I drove down from Philadelphia for the event in College Park, MD.  We got the idea to rent a house using airbnb.  It was a first for each of us,

As I was driving toward the house, he gave me a call and warned, It’s not quite what I expected. Just think, “You are back in college…. it will help you adjust to the environment,” he said. Both he and I have been traveling for 25+ years on business and have stayed at fine hotels and conference centers all over the world.  We are into our 50s and have grown accustom to comfortable accommodations whether it be our home, a bed and breakfast, or a global hotel chain.

I told him “Don’t worry, I’m up for the adventure.”  And what an adventure it was. I must say we were both taken by the friendliness, the trust, the practicality, and of course, the house cat named Emma.  That’s Airbnb, part of the new Social Economy that includes,, and it’s grand daddy, that broke the ice, eBay.

I got to the house early and there was no one there.  Luckily Tom had given me Sarah’s phone number (it’s her house).  She was very polite and asked, “There was no one to answer the door?” I thought we had rented the entire house.  Who would answer the door?  It was no problem.  She directed me under the porch to a combination locked door where the spare key was hanging.  She said, I could go in through her apartment in the basement and then go upstairs to unlock the main door on our floor.  I didn’t notice at the time, but there were quite a few bedrooms in the basement. Later, I learned that including the 3 of us, she had 3 additional roomers living in the basement along with the one room that she used for herself.

There was a kitchen and a bathroom on each floor.  We had the upper floor and would share that area.  Later I found out that all the guests share all the area.  It was OK, but just took a little “attitude adjustment”.  Sarah had labeled and color coded each of the guest rooms.  Mine was called the “Green Bunk Room”.  There were labels for the “Cheery Front Room”, and the “Blue Couples Room” too.  I saw a theme here.  I found the same labels in the refrigerator shelves, cabinets and bathroom shelves as well.  It seems we all had our little cubbyholes scattered around the upper floor.

When I got to my room, it definitely reminded me of college but without the Kenwood stereo system I left in storage back in 1985.  My room was a bed and a table with a small closet section. It was clean, but minimalist accommodations at best.

After a little while, Sarah came home and introduced herself.  She welcomed me and asked if I needed anything.  I was polite and said “I’m fine” and went about my business.  She set up her computer on the front porch and quite naturally ignored me and went about her business as well.  Sensing a little awkwardness, I decided to join her on the front porch and make small talk.  Very quickly I learned she was not new to this social economy.  She told me she started with, then moved to Airbnb with one room, and just recently got this house where she could expand and accommodate more guests.  Guessing she was about 28, I was not surprised when she mentioned that her parents were not too comfortable with the idea of their daughter renting out rooms to complete strangers.

But these are not strangers.  She told me, Airbnb will verify the identity of each guest and she has no obligation to accept anyone.  If she has any bad feelings, she can reject the offer.  It turns out she had verified my brother’s identity online through drivers license, valid email address, and just for good measure, he had to take a selfie at booking time to verify he was who he said he was.  It all checked out and she accepted the booking.

She also told me about couchsurfing, a concept that made me feel like an out-of-touch middle ager.  (I guess I am). CouchSurfing as she described it is like a free airbnb.  You create a profile and a reputation for yourself and then make your “couch” available or request a “couch” when you are traveling the world.  There is no money exchanged and you simply share space with friends you met online.  Now, I’m really beginning to understand the uneasiness of her Dad.

When my brother arrived, we continued the conversation.  It turns out Sarah really enjoys meeting people and loves being a host.  She continued to talk for a little while, but then returned to her lower level apartment and let Tom and me get onto planning the rest of our visit, starting with some time out with the rest of our graduation entourage.

Upon returning a few hours later, we smelled curry in the kitchen.  It seems Dion (a grad student) was fixing dinner.  He introduced himself and said it was hard to find a 4 month lease and this fit the bill just fine.  He was one of the basement tenants.  There was another, I noticed, just briefly, she did not introduce herself.  Later the next day, two more tenants passed through.  One just walked by and went downstairs.  The other, Eric, a former college friend, showed up just for the night laying over from a flight.  It seems Dion was staying elsewhere, so Eric would take his bed that night.  He and Sarah joined the 3 of use for a game of cards.  It seemed like we had all been friends for months.

All in all, I get it.  This is the new social economy where everybody is trusted.  If you break the rules and break the trust you are out and will have a very hard time ever re-entering.  I must say this entire experience was very eye opening and telling of the generation coming up behind us.  They are entrepreneurial, trusting, and very social, both on line and in person.

Something we can all consider as we continue to witness the far-reaching impact of the introduction of the World Wide Web when Sarah was just 3 years old.  For her, this is just a natural way to make a living.  For Tom and me, it was an eye-opening education into the next wave of economic evolution.

There will be another University of Maryland graduation in the family next year.  I think I know where we will be staying.

Note: on further research, it appears the terms "Sharing Economy" or "Collaborative Economy" are gaining traction.  I'll keep it Social Economy for now, but acknowledge these terms are evolving and will likely converge in time.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Quantifying My Life

Fitbit Force is also a watch
When you get right down to it, each of us is somewhat obsessed with data that is “all about me.”

It started with my Nike+ chip in my shoe about 4 years ago.  I was a runner at the time and had been manually mapping and measuring my runs using the “get directions” function on Google Maps to record my distances.  With the chip on board in my shoe and an iPhone 3G strapped to my arm, I was finally able to get an automatic map drawn of my run along with a record of my total time, I was thrilled.  

Next, I migrated to the Nike+ application on the iPhone that produced the same map and timings, but now did it using the new iPhone 4 with it’s built in GPS rather than relying on a separate chip embedded in my shoe.  The app would cheer me on with encouragement as I accomplished my goals.  Later I migrated to RunKeeper in order to better capture my data over time and receive audio cues every 5 or 10 minutes telling me my distance, time, and speed.  The accompanying portal built a day-by-day, month-by-month view of my running trends, showing me progress over time. My run had become quantified.

Fitbit Activity Dashboard
Fast forward a few years (or digital decades) and today, I wear a Fitbit Force that tracks my every step and activity 24x7.  It monitors and reports steps taken, miles walked, stair flights climbed, calories burned, highly active minutes, and even sleep patterns.  It gives me moving averages of my nightly slumber hours and even how long it takes me to fall asleep.  (btw, I average 5:46 hours a night with a sleep efficiency of 98%.) It encourages me with a small vibration on my wrist and a display celebration when I reach my goal of 10,500 steps in a day (a little over 5 miles), and gives me a chorus of kudos when I check my individual stats on the dashboard portal available on my iPhone, iPad, and web browser.  Now all my waking hours and sleep are quantified.

Strava tracks my ride in real time
While I still like to run, my back prefers that I do something less stressful, so I’ve taken up cycling on a road bike.  It really is a pleasure riding through the countryside of beautiful Bucks County in PA.  Now, on the bike, I track and record all my cycling stats using either Runkeeper or Strava.  Using each of these apps, I can measure my heart rate, calories burned, distance climbed, and distance traveled.  With Strava, I get the added benefit of a segment by segment analysis of my ride, compared to other riders who have followed a similar route.  I use a Bluetooth heartstrap that transmits a constant heartbeat stream to my iPhone.  Strava captures it all and posts it to the portal where I can share (and brag) my stats to my cycling friends or curious Facebook onlookers.  Often I receive “kudos” of encouragement from my cycling friends who follow my rides.  One of them regularly keeps up with me from 14 time zones away in Brisbane, Australia, another just 6 time zones away in Madrid.  Now, my ride is quantified.

Nest tracks my energy history
But wait, it even goes beyond that.  I have even quantified my home.  My Nest thermostat tells me many details about the energy usage in my home, also letting me monitor and set the temperature from anywhere using my iPhone or iPad.  It tracks my energy usage over time and congratulates me with a green leaf when I have an exceptionally energy efficient day.

We all have been hearing about the rapid growth of the Internet of Things, but I think the real excitement comes when we can measure nearly everything about our selves and our lives, and emerge as the Quantified Self. Really when you get right down to it, each of us is somewhat obsessed with data that is “all about me.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Does Anyone Still Read Industry Publications?

From: Andy2Boyz 
The possibilities are endless..., a custom daily briefing on virtually any subject of interest.

I was working my way through a professional membership application when the questions turned to demographics.  How big is your organization?  What is your budget?  How many people in your department?  Then they popped the question that I hadn’t been asked in ages:  What Industry Related Publications Do You Read?

I was taken aback and realized that the question was quite normal in 1995, even in 2005 or maybe even 2010.  But today, in 2013, with the vast increase in social media, blogs, twitter feeds, podcasts, and professional online communities, I must say that I don’t read any of them any more.

It was a good list, made up of the cream of the crop from 2003:  Business 2.0, Business Week, CIO Magazine, Computer World, Forbes Magazine, Info World, Information Week, Network World, Red Herring, Wall Street Journal, just to name a few.  But the reality is that it has been many years since I received any physical magazine in my inbox.  Come to think of it, for the last 18 months, I received nothing physical at work, other than a few vendor gimmicks.  All of my communications and my consumption of content has become digital.  The switch finally happened and I didn’t even notice.  Read on to see how this Social CIO keeps current today.

It started about four years ago when I began following thought leaders, analysts, and bloggers on twitter.  I found if I was selective with my “follow” population, I could get a customized feed in my twitter stream every day, throughout the day to satisfy my technical appetite.  Once I started following 400 or 500, I began to get overwhelmed, missing many tweets.  As a result, I found myself getting very selective about adding new tweeters to my stream.  That’s when I discovered the power of twitter lists

Twitter lists are an ingenious invention that allows you to segment those you follow into logical lists grouped by topic, locality, or anything you like.  I pulled together about 300 sources that I thought were most valuable based on my then-current interests around Enterprise 2.0 and Mobile trends.  That became “The Short List”.  It wasn’t so short, at 300 sources, but provided a very focused feed and allowed me to keep adding to my twitter “following” number without worrying about getting overwhelmed in the feed.

Later I created an additional list, simply called “list”.  I didn’t want to offend anyone on “the short list”, but this group was mostly professional acquaintances and a subset of my “short list” pared down to the 100 that I wanted to follow even closer.  Since then, I’ve added other lists for various topics, and followed lists created by others who’s opinions I respect, but I keep coming back to my “Short List” as the key source for my daily information feed.

Moving from Push to Pull

My personal daily paper 
I dabbled with Zite, and Flipboard, but found those too restrictive and never really liked the editorial choices they made.  But my Short List was just what I wanted to hear from every day.  Then, about two years ago, I stumbled upon Paper.Li.  This handy website takes my “Short List” and builds a daily paper based on the most popular feeds of this custom list of curators working just for me.  “The Short List Daily” as it is called is my daily paper giving me a quick briefing on all tech trends and topics.  It groups them into sections (business, technology, stories, culture) and sometimes even into hashtag groupings around events that might be taking place (#e2conf, #e20s for example). The paper has been indispensable.  I like it so much, I share each new issue every morning on my twitter feed.

Curated by the top influencers in
Enterprise Mobility
Just recently, I discovered a service called Littlebird created by industry veteran Marshall Kirkpatrick.  Littlebird does the work of finding the 500 most influential tweeters on any subject (instead of having to build my own “short list”) and allows one to build a twitter list from the result.  I took the list for Enterprise Mobility (created by @ITSinsider using the service) and fed it into Paper.Li and now I have a second “paper” to read every day, “The Enterprise Mobile Daily”.  Littlebird can also create a custom feed of blog posts from all of these top influencers as well.  Imagine a custom feed of all the blog posts from the most influential tweeters on the subject of Mobility, or Enterprise Collaboration, or DNA testing.  The possibilities are endless, providing today’s tech savvy information consumer a custom daily briefing on virtually any subject of interest.

Future this! collects future
oriented stories
I have also found a few other custom papers that I like to check into frequently.  “Future This!” is one of the best at following developments in future thinking.  I’m sure if you check around, you will find any list or “paper” on the subject that interests you as well.

I have just mentioned two sources of expert lists and content presentation platforms.  I expect there are and will continue to be other products continuing to evolve as they tap into the collective editorial skills of the crowd and produce custom feeds of news, trends, and developments in a handy easy-to-digest format.

So, getting back to that original question, What Industry Related Publications Do You Read? For many today, it’s the wrong question all together.  The real question should be How do you stay current in today’s fast evolving technology world?  My answer is a customer feed of self-maintained and custom generated expert lists, combined with the publishing platform of Paper.Li.  I would love to hear how you stay current in the comments below or through your return tweets.

Now, do you understand why the entire print news industry is on “death watch”?

Sections of The Short List Daily

Friday, June 15, 2012

Why is Yammer Worth $1.2B?

You cannot underestimate the power of "working out loud" with social tools.

Over the last 48 hours there have been many words written about the rumored Microsoft acquisition of Yammer, but very little about just what Yammer is and why Microsoft would care.  In fact many have never heard of Yammer and wonder just where did this come from and why would Microsoft pay an Instagram price for this company with a potato like name.

The social revolution happening in the consumer space has also been happening within corporation.  It goes by the name of Enterprise 2.0, Social Business, or Social Enterprise.  Yammer is one of the early products who picked up on the twitter model of short messages posted to followers, but they keep it within the firewall of large corporations, creating a "walled garden" for private discussions within local and far flung offices of a company.  I was introduced to the product about 3 years ago when I was working for a global company with tens of thousands of employees.  About 1000 had already picked up on the idea and found great value in the self forming communities and open communications that Yammer enabled. 

Yammer claims to be used in 200,000 organizations and makes their entrance most often through a "freemium" approach.  The cloud based product can be enabled by any employee with a company email address.  Once enabled, the employee invites colleagues to join, tying the network together by the common email domain that is required to confirm your membership.  Often the network grows quickly outside of the watchful eye of the Information Technology department and before you know it, there is full scale, crowd driven collaboration taking place.  IT can't seem to understand why a product like this is needed, since they already offer email, IM and SharePoint collaboration sites.  But Yammer is special, it is a rebel product that can be installed, promoted, and maintained by Marketers or Sales people.  Yammer builds in viral hooks that encourage users to bring on more within the company using the email system.  Once they see a network picking up, Yammer's sales people begin to contact the heavy users and start the up-sell process to try to convert the service into a subscription at $5 to $15 per user per month. 

The irony is that relatively few ever convert.  A network of 10,000 users would cost $600k to $1.8mm per year at those prices.  The main advantage to a subscription is the ability to have better control, mainly in deleting employees that have left the company. It is not until IT and Legal get involved that anyone wants to even consider a pay model.  So, for the most part, the process continues and corporations in mass adopt this free service as a entry point into enterprise collaboration.

So, just what does Yammer do for a corporation?  Why would it be worth $1.2B as an acquisition?  Yammer provides an excellent selection of desktop and mobile clients that bring the network to the employee 24x7 on any device.  Just like Twitter, they offer a simple web interface, but also offer a desktop client and apps for every major mobile platform.  The security is simple and on a smartphone, the application is always on and always accessible, enabling quick and easy collaboration riding on top of the popular BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) wave.  

I used Yammer to monitor the flow of conversation within my company.  People would post ideas, suggestions, questions, or links to corporate intranet content.  Others would build upon those ideas, begin a conversation, or simply listen in to the conversation.  The conversations are mostly public within the company, but the tool gives the ability to create private groups where sensitive conversations can stay within a department or a team without being viewable by the entire corporation.  Once I asked the crowd where I could find the latest corporate PowerPoint template.  Within minutes someone I had never met responded with an intranet link to the answer.

You cannot underestimate the power of "working out loud" with social tools.  So many conversations get trapped in the one on one world of email and instant messaging.  With open sharing, new ideas emerge, experts are found, and teams are formed from the groundswell.  Serendipity happens when conversations become public and others are encouraged to listen and contribute their ideas, all within the safety of the company walls. 

Yammer is onto something big.  Microsoft recognizes that they need to make an acquisition to become relevant in this space and the deal is done.  All we need now is to get confirmation that this is indeed happening.  [update 6/25: It's official.  See the press release]

You can follow more emerging coverage on this handy Google Doc being composed by the crowd.

Monday, April 9, 2012

What Is It About Instagram?

Instagram gives a brief, but intimate peek into their lives, their loves, and their joys.

The news was a shock. No, it can't be. Facebook is buying Instagram for $1,000,000,000?  No, wait, it already happened?  Oh, boy, there goes the neighborhood.

That was my thought immediately. Then I read the statement from the newly minted multi-millionaire CEO of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, "It's important to be clear that Instagram is not going away." Well, that is some comfort, but it's not the "going away" I'm worried about.  it's the "getting all caught up in the Facebook thing" that is worrying me.

It was just earlier today that I was remembering my post, "Facebook Today, Reminds Me of AOL in 1998", that I thought to myself, "I love apps like Instagram that let you have a small slice of photo sharing without all the overhead that Facebook brings", and then Bam! it's all over and Instagram is taken over by Facebook.

It got me thinking how great these sharing tools have become. A simple app that lets you take a picture, geo-tag it with your location, and then apply one of 17 or so filters to make it exceptionally cool. Gees, I could never take a good picture until Instagram came along. And then all of a sudden friends were saying "great shot," "cool pic,"  "Wow, stunning."  Check out a sampling of my masterpieces here.

I've been on Instagram for a year or so. In that time, I've carved out a small subset of my twitter crowd and became closer to each of them by what they share in photos of their lives. I have a few friends in Australia that share their "summer down under" pictures during the long, cold North American winter.  Then, there is my friend in Calgary for even the cool spring days here when he posts snow cover pictures well into April.  I have other friends who keep me current on the fast growth of their babies and toddlers.

It is just too good.  Each picture is a masterpiece, a little slice of life, that makes the relationship a little stronger.   Most of these people, I've only met on twitter or maybe face-to-face just once at a conference or some event.  Instagram gives me a brief, but intimate peek into their lives, their loves, and their joys.

Judging from the backlash today, many people feel like I do.  One friend is already well on his way to exporting his pictures and deleting his account, just because he dislikes Facebook so much. Well, I'm not going that far, but I do hope that Facebook does not pull a "Gowalla" with Instagram.

Please Facebook, don't mess this one up.  It's the best thing going out there right now.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steve Jobs: Impressions from the Biography

Steve Jobs was quite a remarkable man. I rarely read full books and cannot remember the last time I read a biography. But I just finished a fast 3 week journey through the recently released 650 page biography by Walter Isaacson. (Kindle on iPad edition, by the way)  It was quite a remarkable story and even more remarkable with its openness (as pre-approved by Steve) to be a clear, unbiased account of the author’s impressions after over 40 interviews with Steve and more than a 100 with those that knew him. What results is a enduring picture of a 20th / 21st century technology icon who is as unique as the products he introduced.

I’m not one to do book reviews, but I wanted to share some of my impressions mainly because his work had such an impact on my career and my “early adopter” mentality.

Steve is a several years older than me, but as he and Bill Gates were redefining the computer market from two different angles, I was just entering the workforce, having worked on both IBM and Apple computers, programming my way through the last few years of college. I remember watching the product rollouts and also choosing sides during the 80s when I needed to bet on the technology that would determine my career. I chose Microsoft and continued to keep an eye on Apple through the rollouts of various products through the 80s and 90s. Then when the 21st century Jobs emerged, I left my first choice behind and made the switch to Apple products, first with the iPod, then iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro and finally even a Mac Mini, just because. The technology released in the last 10 years has been nothing short of revolutionary and we should all be indebted to Jobs for his persistence, his perfectionism and his vision to go with his gut.

As I was reading the book, many asked me what were my impressions. Here they are in no particular order.

  1. Steve was a very hands-on manager. He never hid behind reports, market surveys, PowerPoint slides, or “expert opinions”. He was naturally curious and drove for perfection in everything he did. Early stories tell of how he insisted on every element of the original Mac design right down to the perfection of the layout of the circuit boards inside the case itself.
  2. He was never afraid to voice his opinion. When you would show something to Steve, he would generally reply with one of two signature responses. Either he would “love it” (which was rare) or he would simply reply “That is sh—“ . No matter how hard the team worked, he was always stepping on egos and ridiculing his staff. I guess it made it all the more special when he finally liked what he saw. He insisted in hiring only “A-players” and equally insisted that everyone needed to have thick skin and needed to hear the truth (even though his “truth” often reversed into something else later depending on his moods.)
  3. Steve and Bill Gates were really good friends through it all. I was taken by how much of an impact Microsoft had on the original Mac software. Their commitment to develop Word and Excel for the Mac was a big decision that paid of quite well for both Apple and Microsoft. Through the years, the two sparred often quite publicly and one would think maybe hurt feelings or grudges would take over. But the two truly needed each other and right up to the end when Bill came by to visit Steve in his final months, the two had a tremendous mutual respect for each other. I suppose they had each other to share in their common but equally unique journeys through the explosion of the personal technology wave.
  4. Steve knew his life was likely to be cut short. Even before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2003, he pressed on to move as fast as possible. He was eager to make a difference, not for the money, but for the pure pleasure of making truly remarkable products. But looking back, his more significant work happened in the last 10 years of his life. He had a string of wins one after the other with the original iPod, iTunes, iTunes Music Store, iPhone, the App store, and finally the iPad. (We often forget the contribution his company, Pixar, made to animation with Toy Story and a string of hits through the late 1990s and 2000s with Toy Story, A Bugs Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars, and Wall-E.)
  5. He was a dedicated family man when it finally counted in the end. Jobs was very private as he lived, but after his death, he allowed the “family man” side of him to be documented. The book has several great pictures with Steve and his children (including 2 teenagers still at home). Yes, he made many mistakes, but in the end, was a dedicated husband of 20+ years and a loving father to his kids.
  6. Steve, went to “find himself” during his early years. Very vocal about his experimentation with LSD and his travels to India, he did not have a strong religious foundation and instead spent his entire life searching and focusing on eastern philosophies. As a teenager he claims he abandoned Christianity because he could not reconcile why there was suffering in the world. In the end, he continued to be unclear about the afterlife and says he had come to a 50/50 conclusion about the existence of life after death. He did begin to make “deals” with God as he described it. One was that he really wanted to live to see his eldest son, Reed, graduate from high school. It’s sad that such a visionary in the tech world could be so confused all his life about the spiritual world.
  7. Apple is Apple today only because of the unique vision, leadership, and drive of Steve Jobs. The company started with his inspiration, grew quickly through its early innovations, nearly choked on corporate “hand’s off” management without Jobs, and then was revived to become the world’s most valuable technology company under his encore leadership. Yes, Apple still has a great pipeline and will likely put out several more innovations over the next few years, but I would expect that it will unfortunately wind down without the wind of Steve Jobs in its sails and never get back to its earlier glory.
In the end, Steve wanted to write the post script. I feel I should give him that same honor here in this post.

“What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow…We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation to all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me” - Steve Jobs

Thank you Steve. You certainly succeeded by adding your “something” to that flow. For that, those of us in technology are truly grateful.

Rest in Peace Steve Jobs.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Seven Days with my iPhone 4S

I must confess, I held on to my 3GS for the full 2 years and I just finally got my iPhone 4 back in May. I really have been enjoying it, and by 2:30pm, on the day that iOS5 came out, I had quickly updated my phone, but had no plans to move on to the 4S.

When I was watching the 4S introduction at the Apple event a few days earlier, I remember immediately answering a poll on where they asked “Would you be upgrading to the 4S?” I quickly answered “No” and thought that was the end of it. But I am always interested in in these new devices so I keep a close eye on the technology. I was very intrigued by some of the new features of the iPhone 4S especially the voice control from Siri as well as the expected improved performance and speed.

On October 14, just a week ago, as I was heading home from some errands in the mid morning, I decided just to stop by my local AT&T Store. I noticed some barricades for the line and I noticed there were just two people standing at the front door (a worker and a customer). In fact, I didn't even realize it was a line and just walked right for the door and was stopped. I had no intent to buy, but thought I would just come by and check out the excitement for the phone. (There wasn’t much, by the way.)

While waiting, I realized I could simply renew a family member’s contract (who was quite happy with her iPhone 3 – she uses it for phone calls!) for another two years and go ahead and get my iPhone 4S. I would just have to transfer it to my account. About an hour later, I walked out with the brand-new iPhone 4S 32GB unit and plans to sell my only five-month-old iPhone 4 on eBay.

So it's been a week and I have some first impressions. First of all, the performance is indeed great. I ran a few benchmarks on the 4 and the 4S using BrowserMark from RightWare. ( . When I ran it on the iPhone 4 running iOS 4.x, the reading came back 34,253. After the upgrade to iOS 5, that same device scored 53,353. So just by upgrading to iOS5, I saw a 55% increase in the benchmark. I ran the same on the new 4S and got a blazing 85649. That’s 2 ½ times the speed as my former iPhone 4 running iOS 4.x. The iPhone 4S is FAST.

I've been experimenting with Siri. In fact, I am dictating this now because Siri, not only is your personal assistant, but also provides a voice input for any application that would normally use the keyboard. I find it works well and gets most of the words right. Siri, on the other hand as a helpful assistant, is a bit temperamental. Yes she can read my calendar, tell me the weather, and do a Google search, but more often than not, when I need her, she cannot understand me and way too often, cannot connect to the Internet. Siri is a cloud-based app that depends on access to Apple servers in order to do anything other than local dictation.

I never really like talking to anything or giving verbal command in general. I enjoy talking to people through my phone but not to my phone, so I'm not sure if it will ever catch on for my normal routine, but it is an interesting feature nonetheless. I’m sure in time it will improve, but for me, Siri as a personal assistant is nothing more than a novelty.

Another nice feature is the introduction of shortcut keys, a little-known feature of iOS5. They have taken the much maligned “autocorrect” feature and allowed you to create your own abbreviations that help you rather than introduce errors. Nice concept! If you go into Settings, General, Keyboard, you will see the ability to create keyboard shortcuts. I created one for my email address because I type it so many times as a login entry.

Another feature of iOS5 that I certainly like is Twitter integration. For me it means being able to tweet directly from a picture. Now, it’s not such a big deal to add a picture in my Echofon client, but tweeting directly from the photo viewer is a nice plus.

The iMessage feature certainly looks good. It is an alternative to text messaging but, like FaceTime, it only works with the with Apple devices. We would be better off if we could get an open standard for this in the future. I’m sure the carriers don’t like this new competitor to their overpriced text-messaging feature.

The camera certainly is an improvement. Pictures are crisp and clear and the video is hi definition. Built in photo editing features also add convenience. Unfortunately you have no standard definition choice for video. So, here we go using up much more storage than we need. Plus, HD adds a lot of time to share your videos on YouTube or other services.

The new Newsstand features nice. So far, it is just a nice way to pull together magazines. That’s something I will likely use more on my iPad than on the iPhone

One of the real exciting new promises of iOS5 is the iCloud service that allows immediate synchronization of songs, photos and calendar entries. I found it works well with songs, but have been reluctant to try it with photos and disabled it for calendar entries. Using Google calendar I began to see multiple entries and, in some cases, missing entries so I turned it off. I think iCloud shows great promise but I think it can take some time: 1) for me to learn how to use it and 2) to see how it works with other Cloud services such as various Google services and 3) for all the bug fixes to be deployed.

One thing I did notice was that just by default it asked if I wanted to back up my device to the cloud. I thought that was great idea so I enabled it on my iPad, my iPhone and also my son’s iPod Touch. All began to back up immediately and I got a message saying I had used up all of my storage and I needed to purchase more. So the 5 GB provided by the cloud really is not enough and immediately you are encouraged to buy more.

They say the iPhone is really the same on the outside and totally different on the inside. I certainly won't argue that but I did notice the silent switch moved down ever so slightly, enough that most cases will have a little trouble. It is the switch on the upper left side just above the volume switch that has moved down about 1/8th of an inch. I might just have to carve out my speck case a little bit with a razor blade to make it work perfectly.

Overall I'm pleased with the iPhone 4S mainly for it’s blazing speed. I'm also equally pleased that I was able to sell my old 16GB iPhone 4 for nearly equal the price that I paid for a new 32 GB 4S. Judging from the HD video, it looks like I will need that extra storage.

So, for this early adopter, I found it a good experience to upgrade. It will just take a little more time than I thought to learn the new features, and sorry but in my experiences regarding iCloud, I can’t say “It Just Works!”

So what do you think? Please add your comments below or on twitter. Are you going to spend the money to get the new 4S or can you wait for the 5? For me I am fortunate to have three AT&T contracts in the house and a family where I am the only one eager to upgrade the devices as soon as they come out. So when the iPhone 5 comes out in June or so, I will probably get an opportunity to upgrade again.