Robert Scoble The Scobleizer Talks Life Work and Technology

Thumbnail image for Connecting with Bill Sobel
Robert Scoble — aka The Scobleizer — works at Rackspace, where he's building a community for people fanatical about the Internet called building43. But that just scratches the surface. Scoble has been making a name for himself on the Internet for a while now.

"There’s a really excellent about page over on Wikipedia about me. I didn’t write a single word about it, but I do watch to make sure it’s accurate," he told me.

So let's start there. He's best known for his (late great) blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technology evangelist at Microsoft. It earned him a mention in the Economist in 2005, which noted Scoble had become

a minor celebrity among geeks worldwide, who read his blog religiously. Impressively, he has also succeeded where small armies of more conventional public-relations types have been failing abjectly for years: he has made Microsoft, with its history of monopolistic bullying, appear marginally but noticeably less evil to the outside world, and especially to the independent software developers that are his core audience."

Thoughts from a Tech Evangelist

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books — including "The Age of Context," co-authored with Shel Israel -- YouTube and many social media sites.

Sobel: Tell us a bit more about your years at Microsoft, the birth and growth of your awesome blog “Scobleizer” and your work at Rackspace.

Scoble: Rackspace is a cloud computing company that hosts about 200,000 companies' websites — everything from TED to Pabst. They ask me to study the future, so I go around the world and meet with innovators, mostly startups, and also interview tons of them in my San Francisco-based studio.

I've been blogging since 2000, when I helped run some programmer-focused conferences, but lately I've switched to social media, distributing my content via Facebook, Google Plus, YouTube and Twitter, among others. In 2003, my journey brought me to Microsoft, where I interviewed hundreds of employees, from the janitor to Bill Gates. I've also worked at Fast Company, producing my videos for a channel there.

At Rackspace I do a few things that aren't readily apparent: brand development, lots of public speaking, business development and strategy. If the innovator I am interviewing isn't on Rackspace, I pass along details about why not.

Sobel: In 2006, you and Shel Israel wrote “Naked Conversations,” a book that persuaded businesses to embrace what we now call social media. In 2013, you teamed up with Shel again to report that social media is but one of five converging forces that promise to change virtually every aspect of our lives. Can you explain what that is all about?

Scoble: Two years ago, I took note of five trends: wearable computing is going up exponentially, the numbers of sensors on us and around us are going up exponentially, social and location databases are growing exponentially and a TON of innovation was happening in databases. The industry calls these things Internet of Things and big data. Our big conclusion is that these things are fusing together to make a new kind of contextual software/service possible. We're seeing the possibilities in all sorts of places, from Oakley Airwave Ski Goggles, that have a little screen and computer built in, to Google Now, a new kind of contextual digital assistant.

Sobel: You say technologies are starting to “understand” things about you and your environment. Can you explain what that means and why it’s important?

Scoble: In the future, mobile devices are going to need to deal with data coming from watches, sensors in clothing, devices near the phone and even new kinds of face-based wearable computers like Google Glass. Google is working on a new operating system that will actually know what you are doing. Already an app named Moves knows whether you are walking, running, driving or biking and many more contexts are coming soon. For humans, this means products will get assistive and personal. For businesses it means they will be able to know a lot more about how their business is changing and also a lot more about their customers.

Sobel: What do you see as the next wave in business innovation?

Scoble: Two things. Businesses must know everything about everything. GE calls this the Industrial Internet: it's putting sensors in turbines, jet engines and even wings. Union Pacific is putting sensors into the railroad bed that can sense all sorts of things including whether cars running overhead need maintenance. I like to say everything will be "Uberfied." Uber tracks where every employee, every transaction, every customer is in real time -- all from a mobile phone.

Sobel: I can't end this without asking about your thoughts on Google. When we spoke about Google the other night you used the term “Intent Satisfaction.” Can you elaborate?

Scoble: Google is an intent satisfaction company. Recently I spoke with TechCrunch and I made it clear that every purchase it has made and every innovation it has brought us fits into that definition. This isn't about buying Internet of Things toys, like sensors and wearables and robots. It's about aiming at satisfying your intent in a deep way that other companies won't be able to do.

Intent is when you have a thought of something you need. "I am hungry, so want a pizza." That's intent. If Google can satisfy that, it can collect a couple of bucks. There are hundreds of intents you have every day. When I look inside my fridge, for instance, I might think, "I need more milk." What do I do with that intent? Google wants to be there. When I drive I might think, "I need more gas." What do I do with that intent? Google wants to be there. When I am at an airport I might think, "Damn, I need a ride home tonight." What do I do with that intent? Google wants to be there.

How will Google satisfy intent in the future? Robots. Nest thermostats. Artificial Intelligence. And a lot more. It’s big game and Google intends to lead it.