Silicon Harlem

Have you ever wondered if your already smart phone could be even smarter? Consider a new, personalized experience where your refrigerator orders your food and your car automatically schedules an appointment with the mechanic — all through your mobile device. These amenities will be available in the near future, as was discussed at the “Silicon Valley Meets Silicon Harlem – Mobile Life” forum, held at MIST Harlem on April 17.

Hosted by Clayton Banks and Bruce Lincoln of Silicon Harlem, the event was the headline of the 2014 Mobile Week Conference. The forum featured panelists Rodney Williams, CEO of Lisnr; Tiffany Hardin, Founder of Gild Creative Group; and DJ Funk Master Flex of Hot97. Each panelist contributed his or her knowledge of the evolving status of mobile technology.

“From our perspective, the future is here,” Banks said. “Mobile life represents untethered, seamless control. We are moving in a world where you can control everything. We all went through the phase where Siri was talking to us; that was the beginning of digital assistance. Your smart device makes everything else around it smarter, including you.”

Banks says that placing the user at the focal point of creating new mobile technology is the platform for the future. Mobile life is a cohesive interaction between people, places, and objects. It is the personalized convergence point of data-driven decisions that influence social media, mobility, and the internet.

“Your mobile device is going to be a central nervous system,” Banks said. “If we work in unison with the policy makers and manufactures to do this right, your mobile device will be able to make your other devices and appliances smart.”

Understanding the relationship between the user and technology is a growing asset in mobile technology, especially with advertisers, who have a vested interest in the patterns of a mobile user, according to Williams. His company developed an interactive music app that gathers data about the artist that the user is listening to, sending content directly to the user’s phone.

Mobile technology will eventually be fully integrated into our daily lives, a trend that companies are becoming aware of.

“Brands have to recognize that you aren’t relevant unless you have a mobile site,” Williams said. For Lisnr, 90% of their revenue is generated by mobile usage. According to Google Analytics, which quantifies mobile users verses desktop users patterns, an increasing number of people rely on mobile sites.

“I noticed that with, 70% of the users are mobile and 30% are desktop users,” Flex said, who launched the DJ Funkmaster Flex app in April 2013. “I launched the app because we learned the mobile space was growing. The radio is a great platform and it’s my first love, but the number of people who still have a radio in their kitchen or bedroom is slim. I wanted to build a platform to reach newer fans.”

Flex believes that to be successful in any arena, but particularly in mobile technology, you need to “know the mindset of your audience and grow with them. Take notice of the versatility of their interests. I realized that with my audience it goes beyond just music. They also want the latest news,” he said.

In addition to apps, social media is another aspect of mobile technology that is user-centered and vital to any business.

“Social media is a great tool for connecting with my audience,” Flex said. “But it’s only relevant if that platform is still hot.” He joked that “no one is following me on MySpace anymore,” which has faded into obscurity since the arrival of Facebook.

While social media and apps are essential to today’s business marketing, mobile technology overall is where the money is.

“We launched an app last March and it’s not really how we make our money,” Williams said. “Actually, 90% of the revenue we generate is from the mobile platform. We created a number of products. One of them is an ultrasonic frequency that can merge into media, such as your T.V. It can track amounts of data based on user consumption and then we can optimize the content. That’s how we make a profit.”

Mobile technology allows for innovate opportunities that are profitable. For instance, when Flex realized that he couldn’t control the relationship he wished to establish with his audience, he created an app to serve as a foundation — providing the exact connection and control that he was seeking. Similarly, Williams and Hardin expressed the value of establishing your own platform, specifically as being a distribution point.

“We’re putting content on YouTube and other platforms that we don’t own, and if you don’t own it you can’t monetize it,” Williams said. “The evolution is how we can own the data and the content.”

Ownership of content equates to control of data that leads to profit.

“We’ve seen this model before with independent artists, so anytime that you’re in the position to do that I think that’s a very smart move,” Hardin said. Her talent management organization develops careers, including artists in the music industry. She believes that “discovery is another sweet spot in mobile, which is exactly what Silicon Harlem is about, especially if we could nail it down in a more fluid way. Discovery not just in music, but in all parts of our lives,” she said.

Discovering how to better personalize the user experience for the audience is integral to successful mobile technology. Music, for instance is a prime example of how to cater related content to user, which is exactly what Flex and Williams have done with their apps.

“Our new app will begin to track user activity,” Williams said. “Imagine that you listen to music on Spotify, or our car radio for instance, it will start to retrieve content that is tailored to you. A lot of folks are calling this the evolution of the entertainment channel. The channel that I would watch differs from the channel that you would watch; it would be tailored to what you listen to in real time. You open can see the last ten things that you listened to and the hottest content of the day. That’s an example of real life application.”

MIST aims to be a location at the forefront of this technological shift. The renovated space is carbon neutral, with an integrated fiber optic system running throughout the building. Founded last year, MIST, incorporated with Silicon Harlem, seeks to transform Harlem into an innovation hub, while preserving what is still authentically Harlem.

However, the transition has not been smooth. Manhattan Borough President, Gayle Brewer stopped by to briefly address concerns regarding technological development in Harlem. The city is currently in negotiation with Verizon to address the use of inactive pay phones and how they can be converted into hot spots. Such an innovation would resolve the inconsistency of WiFi access among Harlem residents.

“Every city agency has open data sources,” Brewer said. “ We have plans to work within the community to improve the needs of the people.”

Banks sees Silicon Harlem as a center for socio-entrepreneurial growth that represents the natural evolution of Harlem’s progression.

“Harlem will not be left behind as New York becomes a smart city,” Lincoln said. “When we think about buildings, cars, clothes, and devices coming together, these are the components of a smart city. It’s a smart world that we are moving into and I am determined to see Harlem become a smart community.”