/// Tech’s Rising Stars Push Into the Online-to-Offline Era

September 13, 2013  |  All Things Digital

Although startups like Pinterest, Uber and Airbnb may not seem to have much in common except their lofty valuations, they share a similar purpose that could help describe the current era of consumer technology: Bringing the online world to the offline world. Shutterstock/ Curioso This is not a new concept, of course. But it’s a meaningful moment for the physical world to be activated by social, financial, personalized, and sensory data. And likewise, it’s a relief for technology companies to chill out about counting every minute people spend their websites — and instead figure out ways to fit usefully into the living world. If you judge by the multimillion-dollar bets investors are placing on consumer technology, offline-to-online era startups are among the biggest, by far. Investors just valued Uber at $3.5 billion , Pinterest at $2.5 billion  earlier this year, and Airbnb at $2.7 billion last year. After the Twitter IPO, these are what’s next. Though they are not competitors at all, the way people at these startups design products around the online-offline dynamic is persistent and similar. They collect data to make their systems more efficient. They personalize and learn based on user behavior, and they work to exist in a 3-D world rather than on a flat HTML page. And they have access to a larger and more mainstream audience than has ever before used the Internet. “We’re now seeing things come full circle, where the physical real-life experience is informed by the virtual-life experience,” said David Sze of Greylock Partners, which is making a number of bets in this arena, such as Nextdoor and Airbnb. But at the same time, these startups face similar problems, including: Everything breaks down when the connectivity dies; the stakes are much higher in the physical world; and, regulators and incumbents tend to prefer the world as it was already set up. And perhaps most importantly, they open up yet more opportunities for people to be tracked when they don’t want to be. A Lyft driver with the service’s trademark pink hood-mounted mustache John Zimmer, founder of the peer-to-peer ride-sharing company Lyft — an up-and-comer valued at about a third of a billion dollars but continually facing threats around commercial licensing and insurance issues — can identify with all these pluses and minuses of the current era. “For the last two decades, tech tended to make it easier for people to be isolated, rather than actually being in the real world,” he said. “Now we’re bringing them back together.” Lyft, for example, has inspired a dedicated community but also has many haters and skeptics in the worlds of traditional transportation and insurance

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Tech’s Rising Stars Push Into the Online-to-Offline Era

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