Robert Scoble Opens Up About Big Data, Systems of the Future, and Facebook Graph Search

Modern Marketing


Robert Scoble is the startup liaison officer at Rackspace and author of the upcoming book “Age of Context.” Scoble recently stopped by the Marketo offices and was gracious enough to chat with us about what the future holds for marketers, Facebook vs Google+, Open Graph, and how Rackspace has open sourced the cloud.

Marketo: Can you tell me about how the idea for your book came up?

Scoble: Last year I started seeing a pattern. The number of sensors on and around us is going up. There are more wearable computers then ever before.  We’re seeing Nike Fuel Bands, FitBits, the Jawbone Up, Basis watches, Pebble Watches, Apple watches and now Google Glass. Big data is going up exponentially as well. I call it “weird data” because I don’t think it’s just big data, but also a lot of database innovation, and data computation. I mean Marketo is here because of big data right?

Social media content is also growing. We’re hitting hundreds of millions of tweets per day right now and that’s going to increase and be supplemented with location data. As a result consumers are going to see highly personalized and predictive products and services moving forward. A product or service that assists a consumer in their daily lives is going to change based on who they are and what they are doing. Devices will react differently in the future because of this trend. Google Now is a good example of where we are headed because it’s trying to get ahead of you to predict based on past behavior.

Marketo:  You and your co-author Shel Israel decided to self-publish “Age of Context” and I read somewhere that you used a method from Guy Kawasaki’s book. Can you tell us more about that?

Scoble: Yeah, I was reading Guy Kawasaki’s book called “APE, Author Publisher Entrepreneur” and it’s a great.  It teaches you how to self-publish. We decided to go the sponsorship route to get the production of it funded. It’s worked out really well as we have more than $100,000 from sponsors for production and we have more coming in now to help us with the release and marketing.

Marketo: How far away are we from Ray Kurzweil’s vision in “The Age of Spiritual Machines”, by his account we’re supposed to be much closer than we are?

Scoble: I don’t go too much into that weird future kind of thing.  The book will probably end with the self-driving car which will be about 15 years from today. The self-driving car will know where to take you automatically. How will it know where you are going? Simple, you’ve been carrying around a phone in your pocket and it knows your habits.  It will know that on Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock you go to work and you’ve done that 50 times in a row each and every Tuesday. Of course you can override and say, “No I actually don’t want to go to work this Tuesday morning and I want to go somewhere else. “ But for the most part humans are creature of habit and 90% of the time our habits will define us.

Systems of the future are going to pre-populate based on habits. Google Now is giving you a taste of that–it’s telling you what to do and how to do it based on what you have already told Google. I don’t see that as spiritual. The DoD or DARP are now testing drones that can fly themselves and make their own decisions. That gets a little freaky when you think about drones with bombs on them, and the machine itself could decide who dies.

Marketo: I follow you on Facebook and Google Plus. It seems you made a switch recently to less Google Plus and more Facebook.

Scoble: I’m still playing back and forth, but with Facebook I get far more engagement per person. I have 500,000 followers on Facebook and I have 3.3 million on Google Plus. If I post the same exact update on both, I’ll get a lot more engagement on Facebook and that makes me happy.  I bias my time to work not just where the audience is, but also where the influential audience is. I can message somebody on Facebook and have an answer in 10 seconds from nearly anyone in the industry, including people like Michael Dell. I mean it’s crazy who you can reach on Facebook.  I look at it like; can I get to you and can you get to me?

Marketo: Is there an opportunity for marketers with Facebook’s Open Graph Search?

Scoble: Well it’s pretty good at finding people. For example, you could search for friends of friends who like programming, which is great for hiring and great for finding people with similar interests. It’s also fun for finding restaurants in San Francisco that my friends like.

I am not sure yet how I would change my marketing team or my marketing outflow just yet other than to make sure that all profiles are completely up to date and that they are indeed public. If you are one of those privacy freaks you are going to lose in this world because no one can find you. You have to switch your mindset from locking down your newsfeed and thinking it’s all about family photos and privacy. The new mindset is to set it all public so people can find you and do business with you, but then keep your family photos private. When you publish content you can choose to publish that to the public, or publish it to a small group of people. I have a family group with 10 people in it, they are my close family

If you’re a marketer you need people to be able to find you in order to do business.  It’s your job to make it easy for a user to find your phone number and email address. Also watch your messages because if you’re not a friend of a friend and you message someone, you’re going to get thrown into the “other inbox”.  Not many people realize that there are two inboxes in messages. There is your main inbox and then there is the “other” inbox. Make sure you watch that other inbox, because sometimes good stuff gets thrown in there.

Marketo: Why did Rackspace make the move to an open cloud?

Scoble: Amazon is running away with the game (or was running away with the game) when it comes to cloud computing. When there is a rocket train rolling away from you, you do not catch up by playing that game, you change the game. It’s a good marketing lesson. So we open sourced the cloud and gifted it to a foundation called Openstack. Now there are 800 companies, all cooperating on this Openstack Foundation. That lets hundreds of companies catch up to that rocket train and it’s changing everything. PayPal’s standardized, IBM, HP, and Dell are using Openstack.

It’s bringing innovation into the Openstack cloud that’s just extraordinary. It’s similar to the Apple, iPhone and Android story. When Android first came on market, I talked to Vic Gundotra over at Google and he said, “Man, we are way behind, but watch.” He knew the power of opening up and letting a dozen vendors all compete on handsets and letting developers do things like innovate new keyboards. He knew that Google didn’t have the talent to develop its own massively cool contextual keyboard, but SwiftKey does. By opening up the keyboard and saying, “Hey, we are not going to hold back innovation, we’re going to instead free it up.”  Now they have SwiftKey, Swipe, and several other keyboards that users can choose from. It does become more complex to support, since everyone has a different keyboard on their Android device. And then there is Apple, they like the single look and feel because it is easy to support and I don’t blame them. But, they are closed, Amazon is closed, and Android is open, or at least more open even though not completely open sourced. Since Rackspace’s cloud is based on Openstack, it’s going to see the same kind of shift in the cloud world that you have seen happen in the mobile world.