Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) and Shel Israel (@shelisrael) have a new book out, Age of Context. I’m attending their book release party on November 7, so I figured reading the book before attending the party would be the polite thing to do. ;-)

Here’s what struck me as I began to read Age of Context:

Innovation = Removing Friction

The type of innovation that has always intrigued me most is looking for ways to remove “friction” from users who are trying to accomplish their goals. If a required task takes 3 steps to complete, can we lower it to 2 steps, or even 1?

The most impactful innovations of all time have been, at their essence, “friction removers”:

The telephone is a tool for conversations over great distances.

Email is a letter that is sent and received instantly.

A missile is a “punch in the face” from a continent away.

And so on…

Removing Friction is Valuable

Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Medium, recently said:

“Here’s the formula if you want to build a billion-dollar internet company: Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time… Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”

Removing Friction is the Cornerstone in the Age of Context

Here are just a few examples of removing friction:

My iPhone Reminders app alerts me to pick up the dry cleaning… when I leave the office.

Location based reminders on iPhone.

Rapportive shows me what the person I’m emailing with is saying on their social feeds, right from within Gmail.

Rapportive displays the sender’s social feeds inside of Gmail.

Intro by LinkedIn (also created by the founders of Rapportive) cleverly shows me how I know the sender by displaying their LinkedIn profile right from within the iPhone Mail app.

Refresh sends a brief update on the people I’m meeting with, 15 minutes before the meeting begins.

Refresh sends me a notifcation.

Draft — the web app I composed this post in — connected me with a professional editor for $15. (PS — thanks again for the eagle eye!)

Draftin.com builds in professional editing.

But it’s not just apps and Silicon Valley nerd stuff…

The Mackie DL1608 mixing board my band uses is controlled wirelessly by each member of the band using iPads, while we’re on stage… while we’re playing a show. (So long, lazy monitor engineers!)

Mackie DL1608 controlled wirelessly by up to 6 iPads at once.

The list of innovative “friction removers” goes on and on, in all industries.

Big Data vs. Small Data

I’m not one to get too enamored by charts and graphs about “Big Data.” It just seems too, well… big.

However, like Scoble and Israel, I’ll probably never get over the “miracle” of how Google can handle 5 billion searches each day from all over the world and consistently produce relevant results at the top of the page.

That’s delivering one helluva a lot of needles from a massive haystack.

And it’s that small-data-when-you-need-it that adds valuable context.

So context reduces friction. And reducing friction improves experiences.

One Simple Example

Let’s say you received an email from a stranger, and with one click/touch, you can see not only the public social info (like Rapportive and Intro), but all of the previous interactions your team has had with that person across various channels, and any upcoming or overdue tasks, etc. Now that’s some context, baby!

Because as singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco said:

“Taken out of context I must seem so strange.”

We all know the feeling Ani. :)


Patrick Sullivan Jr. (@editweapon) is the Chief Product Officer at Contatta, a soon to be released productivity tool that combines a shared contact database, shared task management, and your email into a single app so your team has better visibility and context into what’s been done, and what needs to get done.