Hopes for Google Plus

I haven’t been a big fan of social networks to date. Largely because I believe that social networks are defined by people and not so much by software. Software does have a place though and can play a very big part. Until now, social networks have been synonymous with Facebook. For me, Facebook is a social channel like Twitter, Flickr, Buzz and email just to name a few.

The nice thing about Google’s social effort is that it isn’t about figuring out what features it has to prioritize to go to market with; it’s been mostly about how to package it so that it will be most interesting and useful to the members of a new community. Google was able to start with having Picasa as their default web album, YouTube for their videos, Talk for their messaging infrastructure and Gmail for email and relationships. The concern about not having enough data seems to be a bit unfounded in general.

Here is where I hope Google Plus will be different because it has a strong opportunity to be different. My biggest concern about Google Plus is that it will be another walled garden like the other channels today. If it is, it will have to try to persuade people to add another channel that is unlikely going to be unique. The theme of how Google can be different relates around consolidation and aggregation. This plays into some of Google’s key strength as part of the reason why their search is so powerful is that it intelligently identifies duplication and removes it from the search results.

I am starting to suffer from social channel burn out. Although I have joined as many channels as I know of today, I participate in very few which really defeats the purpose of a channel. One of the nice features that Google Plus has today is that it allows you the ability to interact with others through Google Plus and email. Hopefully, over time they will allow you to interact with people through the other channels as well and allow people to interact with others using the channel that is most meaningful to them. However, in doing do, Google has to duplicate the information at times as there is a strong likelihood that members of the same circle could need to be reached over multiple channels. Plus then needs to consolidate that information so it’s not represented multiple times in my stream otherwise it would generate a lot of noise. This would be no different then any other social channel today.

Personally, I find myself using Google Plus more and more. A large part of that has to do with Gmail being my primary email provider both personally and professionally. This decision makes sense; Gmail is where the concept of contacts and relationships are most prevalent. Lately, Google has also embedded Talk and Voice within Gmail, using it as a launch point for these services. While Google doesn’t work with Google Apps right now, there are plans to accelerate its availability to Google App users. However, making it available will not be enough. They also need a way to somehow consolidate the experience where my relationships between those accounts or personalities are not duplicated by rather aggregated in an intelligent way. Just as I hope that Google will find a way to aggregate the information coming through my stream, I am also hoping that Google will consolidate my critical services (email, chat, voice and video communications) through Plus as well.

There is without a doubt that social is a big deal for Google. In very many ways, it is the same reason why Android is and was important to Google – it’s a way to feed their gigantic advertising machine. It is a way of gathering more information about you so it can feed you more relevant advertisement to you. At the same time, they are also giving you access to the data you create and hopefully manage and own. Regardless of why they launch Google Plus or what features they launch, I hope they will be different because they need to be.

Waze – Twitter for navigation

Lately I’ve been addicted to a pretty neat application called Waze. It brands itself as a social navigation app and has apps for the iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian. I actually played with both the iPhone and Windows Mobile app and both work pretty decently. The app is pretty addictive. You essentially get points for numerous activities such as simply driving around, sharing event such as speed trap, recording new roads and yes, even editing the map. The mobile app works like it’s supposed to although I surprisingly had more problems connecting to the GPS with the iPhone than I did with the Windows Mobile which is quite rare. The web application is simplistic. You have a dashboard that shows you your previous trips and then you can choose to click them to view those trips. You could also choose to use those trips to enhance a current map by filling out roads that are missing and so on. I like the idea of editing my maps but I find the experience quite frustrating at times. Hopefully over time, they will continue to improve on it. The mobile app also integrates with both Twitter and foursquare.

Although maps are pretty sparse in Toronto and thus rendering navigation pretty useless in my area, it is easy to see the use of Waze. Every once in a while, I’ll get an alert stating that segments of the 401 have medium traffic followed by the speed of an anonymous user at the time. People can also report various things such as accidents on the roadways. One of the issues is that it’s technically illegal to operate Waze while driving so it works best when you have another driver in the car with you. For me, I typically just turn on Waze before I start driving and keep on driving. The neat thing about this is outside of giving up some privacy, it typically doesn’t really detract me from doing what I normally do anyway.

To me, what is probably most intriguing about Waze is the social experiment it represents. I’ve always been of the opinion that most people are most interested in controlling their privacy and not so much containing it. Most people are willing to give out information about themselves usually if it benefits them in one way or another. Given its ability to provide real time data to its users, it’s the equivalent of Twitter for navigation

Follow Friday – May 22, 2009 (aka the TWEEPS post)

I can’t believe it’s Friday already and it’s time to crank out another Follow Friday post. It’s been a surprisingly busy week and I’ve not had much chance to blog or tweet of late. I’m hoping that Follow Fridays aren’t the only posts I do in May =D. So my theme for this weeks Follow Friday is Tweeps. These are folks that I met on Twitter and have had awesome conversations with. Few I’ve met in person and the rest I’d love to meet with them.

@digital_jenn: @digital_jenn is my original tweep and I’ve yet to meet her which is kind of ironic. I started to follow her as she’s a colleauge/friend of my sister but most importantly, she shared the same passion as I did for Windows Mobile devices. Takes awesome pics from her phone but she’s not as active as she once was.

@trapwire: Not yet met @trapwire but have played on Xbox Live with him. Great guy, very tech savvy. I’d love to meet in person one of these days. Has a great sense of humour, friendly, great heart and great conversationalist.

@thenaomi: Fun and Fabulous. I’ve had the opportunity to meet @thenaomi in real life. Struck a conversation with her as she was doing a position paper on Zoocasa and have continued to maintain a conversation with her. Recent MBA graduate, TRUE geek at heart, vibrant and overall lots of fun.

@jaimewoo: I’ve known about @jaimewoo through a good friend of mine but only met him for the first time through @thenaomi this year. He’s a social blogger about Toronto. I really enjoyed his work on TOin6words and looking to TastingTourTO

@tristanx: I started following @tristanx only a while ago. We share the same passion of technology. He’s a great story teller with hilarious anecdotes. Also another great conversationalist. Would love to meet in person when we get the opportunity.

@skanwar: @skanwar is a real character; he’s another great story teller and is awesome just to observe his constant chatter about life in general. Seems to be always ready for a meet up somewhere. Hopefully one day I’ll get to meet up with him.

For other Follow Friday recommendations, please look here.

Dennis Kneale and Saul Colt on CNBC

I was really curious about seeing this clip because I work with Saul and he's a really amazing person (more about that on Friday). The clip caught me by surprise as Bill came across very negatively and extremely ignorant. The reality is that social media is here to stay and will be a tool (just like email is) for many. As a business, it's definitely a tool that will evolve. I have to say that overall, Saul was really calm and collected while answering the questions quite articulately.

I want to start out by saying is that Twitter is just a tool. Different people use it for different things. There are so many different types of apps that have been created to leverage all the various aspects of this tool.
 
"That cartoon sums it up"
The clip starts off with the cartoon about someone tweeting inanely on Twitter. I've actually seen the full clip before on YouTube and it's very funny. It takes one common use of Twitter and completely exaggerates it. I have no problem with that. However, it isn't the only use of Twitter. To imply that it is the only use of Twitter is ignorant. It's like saying that the only way to start a car is by hand crank. I do write about what I'm doing sometimes as I've got my mum on Twitter and some friends who might find what I'm doin interesting. But this is the most basic form. It's quite true to say that the cartoon does NOT sum up the use of twitter in any means.
 
"Who would pay $700M for a one-hit wonder?"
I wasn't sure what Dennis Kneale meant by calling Twitter a one-hit wonder because it could mean either that Twitter only has one feature or that the company that developed Twitter only has one product. Either case, I'm not really sure what the relevance of the comment was. Personally, I view Twitter as a technology. It has popularized the concept of micro-blogging and in so many ways is not that different than Blogger not so many years ago. Twitter may have very few functions but different people have used it for different uses. Companies like Comcast have used it to successfully provide better customer support while others use it to disseminate information while others use it to look for trending information
 
"How many followers do you have?
The number of followers really isn't that important other than for my ego. Today is the first time when the number of followers exceeded the number I'm following. A proud moment but as Saul said – it's not particularly relevant. For me personally, it's the number I'm following. For me I am constantly looking for people to help me keep on top of tech news in particularnew web tech or mobile tech, finding out more about what goes on in the real estate industry or simply meeting new, interesting and very smart people. Fortunately for me, Twitter allows me to do all 3 rather quickly and effectively.
 
"Who cares?"
I actually loved Saul's answer to this question. It was a perfect answer; your followers care and no one is holding a gun to your head. If people start to be disinterested in what you're saying then, people will unfollow you. I don't take it offensively when someone does – it's just that what I write or think may not necessarily interest everyone. At the end of the day, people follow you for a reason. Frankly, I am honoured that anyone follows me at all but truth be told, I don't really know who they are most of the time.
 
"I read it in the newspaper"
I won't say it's archaic but I haven't bought a newspaper in years. Largely because I find other means to get information and Twitter is now one of the richest sources of information. In some ways, Twitter is provides a natural filter for information overload if used well.
 
"Where is the business?"
There is about as much business opportunity with Twitter as there is with Facebook. Both serve to a certain fashion the same clientele. It's another social medium to disseminate information. At the very least, it's a well known infrastructure. If you liken Twitter to RSS, can you imagine if someone pattented RSS and every provider had to pay a fee to use that technology? There is a business opportunity here for Twitter. It is the most well known medium for microblogging right now and there are many apps that have been built on top of it.
 
"The bloom is off the rose now – tweetwise"
The comment was a bit ironic because earlier on Dennis Kneale mocked Twitter as a one-hit wonder but in this sentence he says that Twitter is losing is lustre because it's valued at $700M. Twitter is a very simple piece of technology. There is nothing amazing about it from a geek standpoint; it can and is easily replicated. What is amazing about it is that it has won and continues to win the hearts and minds of many as a means to communicate with others.
 
"Twitter is an excuse not to read"
If anything, this comment goes to show the lack of understanding of how Twitter actually works and how people are using it. This is a classic case of either misinformation or misdirection. One of the most powerful things you can do in Twitter is the ability to hyperlink and most people use it to hyperlink to photos, videos and blogs that give others a much larger view of what's going on. The 140 characters is simply a summary to let someone know whether or not they want to follow up on the topic.
 
I don't watch much TV largely because I can get my information elsewhere in a much quicker fashion so I don't know if Dennis Kneale is generally ignorant and an ass but in this case, he was quite a bit off base. I'm not even that much passionate about Twitter other than it's a really interesting way of getting information. If interested in looking at other great uses of Twitter, check out Microplaza and CoTweet.

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Back on track

It's been an up-and-down tech week for me. If you've followed me on Twitter, you'd have seen my frustrations with my phone since my Colorado trip. I had decided to try the Energy ROM which is very fast and very pretty but I ran into a tonne of problems with stability. After trying out a few more I seem to have settled for the Proven ROM for now. This ROM doesn't crash as often but it has a lot of quirks that I'm debating whether or not I can live with. For one, there isn't an easy way to assign Voice Command to the PTT button and the other is that while I'm in transit, it keeps telling me I'm disconnected from the network. No guff. It is damn annoying and it drains the batteries rapidly.

Other than that, I've been toying around a little bit with some new tech that I hope to be blogging about the next few days. Micro Plaza has a very interesting concept. It filters your network for links that people have posted. PeopleBrowsr looks like it can be a web-based TweetDeck replacement. Flexilis provides online backup, anti-virus and intrusion protection for your Windows Mobile device. All interesting implementations. Hopefully I'll have time to write about it this weekend.

Tweetdeck – Initial Review

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I love Twitter for it’s simplicity and versatility; everyone seems to use it a little differently so the interactions that you observe on Twitter can be overwhelming at a glance. Enter Tweetdeck.

Tweetdeck is an Adobe AIR application that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s not an information consolidator but an information organizer. Tweetdeck allows you to organize your information into columns and by default, they give you 3 – all friends (your entire twitterverse), directs and replies. The replies function is smarter than the built-in replies in Twitter. The default replies function in Twitter searches for all tweets that start with @[your usename] where as the replies function looks for @[your username] in any messages. I wouldn’t have caught some of those messages directed at me if I didn’t have Tweetdeck.

The next most useful function in Tweetdeck is the ability to group users. This is useful as different people use it differently. The people I know outside of @jasonlewin and @gerrypower, don’t tweet as much. So often it’s easy for their tweets to get lost in the deluge of messages from the twitterverse. For myself, I decided to create groups for “friends and family” as well as “work” as those two groups interact very differently from one another.

The ability to have a dedicated search column is interesting as well. By default, I have #rogers, #telus and #bell as one of my columns as I’m curious to see what’s going on in the mobile industry in Canada.

Twitter is also famous for its ability to report news long before it hits the mainstream media. For this purpose, the Twitscoop column is fantastic. It shows you what words are hot and what terms are trending. Every once in a while it’s neat to see what’s going on out there. It would be interesting to see if there are ways to generate trend information by limiting information by either geography or keyword. That would make it an even more powerful product.

Another feature that is a big deal is the alerting. When a new message comes up, it categorizes by columns so it tells me where I should focus on instead of just being overwhelmed with lots of messages all the time. I really like Tweetdeck as it makes my Twittering more informative and relevant.

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Getting news aggregation to work for me – Attempt 1

The challenge of news aggregation has been quite an interesting one for a while. The overall business problem I've been trying to address for a while now is to find a system that will aggregate my news information, read the information and allow me to share interesting articles with others through email or RSS feeds and allow me to tag the information so that I might easily locate this for future use. To top it off, it has to give me this ability on my desktop and through my Windows Mobile device. On the web, the best newsreader for me is Google Reader by far. However, since I read most of my news on my Windows Mobile device, there has been no other program that synchronizes well with an online reader like Newsgator so I find myself using Newsgator for both the web and Windows Mobile device. While pRSSreader has the ability to synchronize with Google Reader, I find that it somehow never seems to finish synchronizing all of my feeds when I reorganize my RSS feeds into folders. Organizing the feeds into folders is critical because I have over a hundred RSS feeds that I subscribe to and continue to find blogs that are interesting and am eager to follow them.

So here's my kick at the can for trying to solve this problem. My folders are typically organized by topics anyway and truth be told, I don't find myself reading most of the blog entries because not everything someone writes is relevant to what I'm interested in. It's the nature of the beast and it in no ways demeans the writer of any blogs that I follow. Social Median is probably the closest thing to an aggregator right now but the site itself works more like a newspaper site and not an RSS aggregator but it does give you the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds of your news network of choice. There are two dilemmas with the RSS feed in Social Median is that it only produces a summary of the feed which for its business purpose makes sense and the other is that it doesn't allow me to interact with the network which is a big part of using Social Median.

After some thinking, I figured that I could leverage Social Median and Google Reader to give me the best of both worlds – at least on the web front. What I've recently done is to export my Google Reader feeds, delete them from my main Google Reader account and re-subscribed to them in my other Google Reader account. I then proceeded to subscribe to create news networks by the topics that are most important to me. I did this at 2 am in the morning when I couldn't sleep; in hind sight, I should have actually looked for existing news networks that best fit my needs as the most powerful feature is the activity of the people within a particular news network. I think I'm going to have a hard time recruiting people to join my news network as most of my friends really aren't that social online. By integrating it to Google Reader, I get an user interface that I'm familiar with and works very well for me. I automatically get the ability to share through the Google Share functionality which I then publish to Twitter. I also get to email people through an integrated contact manager with GMail. There issue where only part of the entry is published through RSS feed is resolved through a combination of Firefox add-ons called Greasemonkey and Better GReader. This gives you the ability to click on the header and it gives expands to bring the page of the entry directly into the Google Reader page. This also then gives you the ability to clip, set the mood or mark it as irrelevant.

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