I wish I had never heard of Google+'s brand pages

OK, you all know I’m Google+’s biggest fan, right? For the past five months I’ve poured almost all my time into my Google+ account, which has paid off with a fun community and a lot of followers.

But yesterday Google+ rolled out brand pages. Here’s all the relevant news about that on Techmeme.

I wish I had never heard of them.

Why not?

Well, when you work for a public company anything you post as a representative of that company needs to be done very carefully (I work on the media team at Rackspace, going around the world studying the bleeding edge of the technology industry). The problem is that there’s no editorial tools for anything posted to our Google+ account. Google+ brand accounts are woefully inadequate for public companies’ needs. Let’s discuss some of the limitations:

1. Only one person can “own” or “post to” an account. There’s no way for a social media team, or a customer service team, to split up duties. Heck, and that’s assuming that only one team inside a company will want ownership of such an account. What if the marketing team wants to post to the team owned by the customer service manager?
2. If one Gmail account was used to build the public account, and it’s shared between multiple people, there’s no way to know who is posting to that account.
3. If there are rules against posting inside a company to a company account without getting several people’s approval (as there is within Rackspace) it makes it unbearable to post content that has any “life” in it. Why? Because there’s no process for signoffs, so now we’re stuck coming up with some new publishing system that isn’t built into the tool itself.
4. There is no way to add Team members to this account without getting them to follow the account first.
5. There’s no way to see who is following such an account if you are the owner. (UPDATE: some people say I can see this, but it’s hard to find).
6. It is extremely easy to post something by accident to your company account if you are the owner. Just ask Google employee Steve Yegge about that one.
7. If I, as owner of the Rackspace Hosting account, were to die tonight for some reason, how would ownership get transfered over to someone else at Rackspace?

So, let me get this straight, only one person, working on one team, can post to a social networking account? So, if the brand needs to say something to customers in a high-touch, high-service business like ours (we have customer service people posting and answering phones and talking on chat 24 hours a day 365 days a year) they will need to wake me up to get me to post something? Really? Google, did you really think this through?

Yes, Facebook didn’t have those features for its brand pages at first either but then when Facebook first came on the scene no one thought they would use it for business. Heck, when I first heard about Facebook it was still for college students only.

Yesterday I registered Rackspace Hosting thinking “of course they have features to let me transfer the account to other people, and of course they have features to let me add other people as managers.” After all, it’s been five months since Google+ launched and I figured that Google had worked with big brands to make sure that those features were there.

But when I was signing up for the brand page, was there any warning that “hey, you will be the only one allowed to post to this page right now.” Nope.

It was quickly added to Google search and then it was too late to turn back.

But now I’m realizing just what a mess I stepped into. I now have to be extremely careful about what I post to that account. I have to even be very careful about who that account follows (already I added two people and their posts are showing up on the feed, which means that whoever I add can probably mess up someone’s experiences in the future). Not to mention that I can’t see who else works at Rackspace (like I can on Facebook) and I can’t even see who is following the account, so I can easily pick from those people to follow back.

Even commenting on this account is very scary. I still don’t know how to see whether I’m posting as “Robert Scoble” or as “Rackspace.” This is NOT simple enough and if it’s scary for me (someone who has posted thousands of times on Google+) I imagine it’s terrifying for some junior employee who is getting whipsawed by corporate policy and politics.

Because there’s no way to work on a publishing process, now I’m talking with my coworkers about using a tool, like Trello, to build a publishing process so that there’s some way for us to figure out together what to post (we also use Salesforce Chatter). Not exactly what I wanted to be doing this week. But I started one anyway.

Even worse, I’m up early this morning to upload a video, with the founders of New Relic (very cool new company that our customers will want to know about) and now I have to decide where to post that content. Do I post it to Rackspace’s new account, or do I post it to my own personal account? Or do I post it to both (which will look spammy to customers who follow both of us). Yet another reason why I wish I had never heard of Google+ brand accounts: I can’t post content to multiple places. Grrr.

Did anyone really think these things through? Why did they take five months to get done?

Anyway, this is just a way for me to tell anyone thinking of signing up their company for a Google+ brand account to think twice. You might, because you signed your company up for such a thing, get saddled with an entirely new job that you might not like one bit. One that you’ll find that Google didn’t equip you for success in.

UPDATE: of course we’re discussing this over on Google+ too.

Verb wall: The $40 billion Mark Zuckerberg is leaving on the table

Mark Zuckerberg answers Jessica Livingston's questions at Startup School

I was on stage with Facebook advertising Product Manager Paul Adams this morning. Don’t know who he is? He came up with the research that led to Google Circles before moving to Facebook. Interesting guy, but he told me that Facebook isn’t working on ways to push advertising back out through the verbs to client apps.

First, what’s a verb? Every time you comment, like, read, run, or do other things you are creating data that gets turned into a verb and pushed into Facebook via an API.

You can see the results of these verbs on the new ticker that runs on the right side of Facebook.com. On my screen right now it says “Erik Lammerding read…” or “Verizon Wireless added…” or “Katherine Goldstein likes…”

But the problem is Facebook has a verb wall, which means Zuckerberg is leaving BIG money on the table.

Let’s unpack just how much money Facebook is leaving on the table. First of all, here’s an interesting video with AllTrails. Don’t know who they are? They are yet another app developer that is collecting interesting data about the world. In this case hiking trails and other outdoor activity areas. Go ahead and watch, I’ll wait until you get back.

Do you see the verbs? “Walked…” “Skiied…” “Boated…” “Finished…” “Ran…” “Cycled…” “Climbed…”

Now, the reason I posted this here is because there are hundreds of companies like AllTrails. Companies like Foodspotting, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around food. Companies like RunKeeper, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around exercise. Companies like Foursquare, who are studying our emotion, er, verbs around location.

These companies have data that Mark Zuckerberg wants. Why?

Facebook’s driving mission is to know everything about everything. Oh, OK, they don’t say that on stage, but we all know that’s where they are going, don’t we? (officially it’s: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”)

After all, Facebook is a new kind of media company. One where the media comes TO us. Yahoo is the old kind of media company. We have to go TO the media there. That’s why Yahoo is boring, no matter how many iPad apps they release. It’s old and creaky. It’s not social. It doesn’t have verbs. It doesn’t have a way to bring my friends, or my interests to me like Facebook and Google+ can. Facebook is new and fresh. Paul nailed why on stage: the web is being rebuilt around people. He gave several examples, but, heck, AllTrails is as good an example as any. I can see what people say about the trails. Even better, as AllTrails integrates into Facebook, I can see which trails my friends have been on.

The problem is that Mark Zuckerberg’s “verbs” (the way that apps, like Foodspotting, AllTrails, Foursquare, or Runkeeper will share their info into Facebook) are sort of one way. Facebook has a cultural bug here. They view everything like a data roach motel: all your data can come in, but it won’t leave. Well, except that Zuckerberg keeps hiring all these open web folks, so watch for this to change.

And, due to Paul’s statements on stage, I’d go further: all your app data will come in, but no value will escape.

That means that Mark Zuckerberg still hasn’t seen the $40 billion market that he’s leaving on the table because he’s not thinking about how to become THE ad network for the modern mobile age.

Let’s go into what Facebook will have to do.

They will need to build a new messaging infrastructure for advertising. A lot of that is already built, but ads need to be portable, mobile friendly (form factors that work on iPhones and Android phones need to be standardized on) and need to be able to be passed through the contextual engine that Facebook is building (geeky way of saying “database that understands everything about you and your role in the world”) and out, through those verb interfaces, to be displayed on apps like Foodspotting, AllTrails, etc.

Today, when I use Facebook on a mobile phone, I don’t see a whole lot of advertising.

Adams, who is a product manager working on the advertising team, hinted at the kinds of advertising that he’s interested in: ones that put people first. He showed several examples of commercial sites that became much more useful once social is added to them. Etsy and Trip Advisor, for instance, both change when you add Facebook to them to show a new kind of commerce: “five of your friends have been to this hotel.” THAT is very powerful.

But, take that out, past the verb wall, aren’t we more likely to be transactional when we are out and about and using apps like Amazon’s new “Flow” app, or AllTrails. “Five of the people who’ve been on this trail ate at Joe’s dinner, 500 yards away.”

This is a new kind of advertising and there’s going to be BILLIONS of dollars spent on this kind of “people-centric” advertising.

But first Mark Zuckerberg has to open up the verb wall and start passing VALUE back through that wall out to third-party developers.

If he does that, oh, boy, you will see a TON of innovation unleashed as developers build new kinds of apps for mobile developers.

First, though, Mark will have to blow open the verb wall. So, Zuckerberg, this is all my way of saying “tear down this wall.”

Beating the traffic woes: Trapster vs. Waze

I drive a lot. Since mid-2009 I’ve put 45,000 on my 2010 Prius. Almost every mile of that has been with my trusty iPhone, usually on a holder on the dashboard or in one of my drink holders.

Lately I’ve been testing out two apps (Waze and Trapster) to help make driving more fun, and I invited execs from both companies to my house to go on a drive and learn about the philosophies behind both companies.

Trapster started out stronger, with its “share where the cops are” approach. It quickly got to 14 million downloads, although I doubt many of them are active anymore, based on my experiences driving around San Francisco.

Waze didn’t focus on just cops, but on the overall driving experience. You could report road closures, or obstacles in the road (I reported a ladder in the middle of the freeway once) to other drivers.

Since Waze started in Israel, and because Google had better maps and driving directions in the United States, its growth had been slower, which meant its utility wasn’t nearly as good.

But that was a year ago. Today Waze is blazing a new path with a very nice and newly-designed app. Every day, at least in San Francisco, I see more and more drivers using it, which means traffic reports are getting more and more accurate and more and more granular. Now it’s not uncommon for me to be right behind another Waze user, even on mountain roads. Unlike on Trapster, where you have to guess where drivers are, you can see exactly where they are on Waze (don’t worry, you can be totally anonymous, although I always am totally public so you’ll see me driving around).

On Trapster, drivers leave “blue lines” where they’ve been (they last a couple of hours) so you can at least tell where drivers have been. Tonight we drive home at 11 p.m. from Milpitas and I was using both services. On Waze I saw lots of other drivers, but on Trapster I saw no blue lines. The crowd has moved, it seems, and that makes Waze more useful.

Trapster does have one new feature that’s very cool. Trapster was recently sold to Navtek, the mapping folks, and they’ve mapped the speed limits on many of the region’s roads. So, as you’re driving along you’ll know the speed limit. Handy, because in many areas the speed limit signs are infrequent (it warns you if you are exceeding the limits, too, which is nice).

If you watch the video I did with Trapster, you’ll see that the company has started moving away from just being about spotting cops and traffic cameras, and is now also about sharing traffic info, like blocked lanes, and such. But here Waze is innovating faster (Trapster really hasn’t added many new features lately, while Waze has gotten a total overhaul) and has more users, so that’s the one I find myself reaching for the most.

What about you? Are you using any traffic apps on your phone? If so, which one?

Here’s videos of both teams:



A note to Dave Winer and Fred Wilson

Hi Dave and Fred,

Dave, I’ve been away from your RSS for a while now. Heck, I’ve been away from blogging. But I’ve been thinking about what you told me when I visited you in New York. You weren’t going to read me on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook. Why? You like reading RSS (you should, you helped bring it to the world).

Fred, you told me that I was nuts to give up my blog (I told you I had left it for the better engagement of Google+). You told me that it is dangerous to not own a place with your own name on it, on servers that you — at least in theory — control. Didn’t think it was gonna work out for me to post my content solely on Facebook or Google+ (both of which now have blog-like features and feeds).

I pushed back, noting that the ability to gather engagement is way off the charts on Google+ and, even, on the revamped Facebook (about a month ago Facebook added a new feature, called subscribe, so people can subscribe to my feed there without being my friend and they also gave us the ability to post long posts).

I also told you about Flipboard and how it’s changed my reading behavior. No longer do I use RSS-only news readers. Today I can see Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, RSS, Facebook and much more aggregated together in Flipboard.

Now Dave doesn’t like the paginated world of Flipboard. I imagine he won’t like Google’s Propeller (a tablet-based competitor to Flipboard), that’s rumored to be coming this week, or whatever Yahoo is doing, or whatever Feedly, AOL, Pulse, Flud, CNN, is doing.

I still remember the day when Dave first showed me how he likes reading blogs. He likes a simple feed where new stuff shows up at the top of the page, or, even better, in his outliner (for those who don’t know, Dave invented a lot of outlining technology that most of the industry has long forgotten about, but Dave still likes reading, and blogging, in an outliner where most of us just read Facebook or Twitter).

But something happened over the past few weeks that’s gotten me reenergized about RSS. What is it?

Well, Google, in its new “focus on Google+” strategy, has announced that it’s dropping some features from Google Reader. Mostly the social stuff.

Now THAT is interesting! One reason why I left Google Reader (and RSS) is because Twitter and Facebook just became dominant in the world of news. For instance, look at my Twitter news feed of news articles from major news brands around the world. Stick that into Flipboard and you have a world-class newspaper that NOTHING can match.

This change in Google Reader is going to be very interesting to watch. Yes, I see that lots of people are up in arms about this change (funny enough, I read that on your own blog at Scripting.com).

Lately Dave you have come into a number of different conversations. The famous Silicon Valley investor, John Doerr, yesterday, told me he found your writings to be as interesting, and smart, as ever. He’s not the only one who’s said that lately.

So why this note. I’ve decided to live most of my life “inside Mark Zuckerberg’s and Larry Page’s trunk.” It’s a damn nice trunk, too.

Acutally, I see it more of a dark force. It sucks all data toward it. Both Facebook and Google are like black holes.

I’ve decided to live on the dark side of the force, inside the black hole.

Why? For a few reasons:

1. I don’t have a business model to protect. I just need to be where Rackspace’s customers, and potential customers, are. Increasingly that’s inside Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (yesterday at Y Combinator’s Startup School person after person came up to me and talked about a post or two I’ve made on Google+ or Facebook).

2. I don’t care whether my words, or videos, survive into history. Heck, the first few years of my blog, from 2000 to about 2003 aren’t available anywhere anymore and that hasn’t really caused me too much pain.

3. Everyone knows multiple places to find me, so I don’t care that one company could delete me anymore, either. Remember when Facebook deleted me for about a day? Well, now, if they tried that it would just help out Google+ (and vice versa). And if both of those got together, I still have my blog. Heck, even if the entire social media system decided to try to block my words I’d find a way to communicate. Now my rolodex is good enough that I’d be able to get airtime even on old-school pro media.

But I keep coming back to what the value of RSS is. Dave, you nailed it when you said it travels through firewalls (in other words, those put up by governments, like in Iran and China).

And, there ARE some things I want you both to read, even if you decide never ever to set foot into the black holes of Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

So, I’m going to start participating in the RSS world again. Maybe just as letters to you two. See, one reason that my blog has gone dormant is I just was having more fun inside the dark force of publishing. RSS isn’t as addictive, nor as social, nor as conversational anymore and that’s where I’ve chosen to live my life.

This is why the new Google Reader strategy intriques me. Sometimes I want to write a long ass piece where I don’t need to interact so much. Heck, I might even turn off comments here. Might even become, hate to say it, anti-social here, since there are so many better places to have a quick, real-time, low-friction, conversation amongst friends (both Google+ and Facebook are serving that for me, far more than here).

To Fred Wilson: I’d love to unpack where you think the investment opportunities are in the new modern publishing world.

My own feeling? Developers really like the new Facebook “verbs” platform, but they see the value flowing only one way: toward Facebook. They are waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to make his verbs platform two way: their data goes into Facebook and Facebook writes checks, or pushes advertising back out through those verb interfaces.

If that happens I can see lots of startups getting on Facebook’s bandwagon and it might even justify some of the valuations we’re seeing for companies like Color, Path, etc.

I’d also love to hear if you think there’ll be an investment opportunity around companies that focus on RSS again (or, better yet, decentralized identity technologies). I’m starting to think that there might be and if I’m thinking that, it’d be interesting to hear if you are thinking the same thing.

I’m thinking that way because I’m meeting more and more people who don’t have a social graph, don’t care to have one, and, even, are actively not participating in Facebook or Google+ because they are scared of what those companies are doing with the data. They have no such fears around RSS and that’s why getting rid of the social features over on Google Reader might actually be a good thing!

Anyway, thanks for listening. This was mostly a way to get my blog’s pipes unclogged, so sorry for running on a bit.

Your friend, Robert.

Eighteen minutes with the new Lytro camera and its founder

Reprinted from my post on Google+.

I get a pretty good demo of the camera, then Ren Ng comes over (he’s the genius who developed this technology while at Stanford — he’s been working on this for eight years) and we have a chat about the technology.

If you are interested in this camera, you’ll want to check this out.

You can order yours at http://lytro.com

This is the camera that lets you refocus after you shoot images.

It also does 3D (they had a separate display that I didn’t shoot where I viewed those 3D images and they are pretty damn cool) — you will be able to decide after you shoot whether to display images in 2D or 3D, which is totally cool.

Hope you enjoy this look at this remarkable technology.

Watch this for some "magical technology"

You might have seen Marco Tempest’s video on TED where he fooled the audience with three iPhones. But do you know how he did it? (You should watch his TED video first, because if you watch my video first it’ll blow the illusion).

I visited his studio in New York last week to get a look.

What was even better was he gave me a preview of stuff he’ll do at the LeWeb Conference in December in Paris and, even, did a cool Google+ trick too.

Oh, and make sure you don’t miss his last two tricks. Those are, well, wow.

I think any TED speaker better see this. Why? The bar is going up on performance and it won’t be easy to match. Even after you see the secrets.

By the way, we’re discussing this over on Google+ and today I’ll be on TWiT with Leo Laporte and we’ll discuss this more.

Join us at LeWeb!

My apology to Tim Cook and remembering Steve Jobs

A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the Next Web about Steve Jobs. In it I tell about my front-row seat on Steve Jobs career.

Tonight I apologized to Tim Cook, Apple’s new CEO, for being harsh on him and his performance on Tuesday where he introduced the iPhone 4s. If you’ve been following my Google+ account, you’ve been seeing all that. That’s where I’ve been “blogging” lately.

Tonight I was driving near the Cupertino/Sunnyvale border when I heard the news on KGO Radio. Steve Jobs had died. I shot a rainbow over Silicon Valley shortly after I heard the news, then drove onto Apple’s campus in Cupertino, where I discovered the flags were half staff. I was one of the first tech blogger/journalist types there.

It was quiet. A few people were taking pictures of the flags, hanging. What I noticed was how quiet everyone was. Most were staring into their iPhones, at least partially in shock at the news. Soon the press started showing up. One of the first was Dean Takahashi, of Venture Beat, who shot this video of me. That was discussed here on Google+.

Some other photos and discussion:

First flower appears at Apple's headquarters

First flower appears in memorial to Steve Jobs. Many more would follow. The discussion about that on Google+ is here.

iPhone photos of half-mast flags at Apple's headquarters

Video of a bagpiper who played in front of the Apple campus:

Apple employees reading their iPhones, waiting for a bus. All were quiet.

Apple employees being quiet while reading Steve Jobs news

Apple’s headquarters when I came on campus. Now there’s a crowd there and a memorial. When I arrived employees were sadly walking around, being very quiet, occasionally shooting a photo of the flags.

Flags half staff at Apple's Cupertino headquarters

Apple’s headquarters with dark storm clouds overhead.

Storm clouds over Apple

A rainbow over Silicon Valley shortly after I learned of the news.

Rainbow over Silicon Valley as it learned about Steve Jobs' death

Thanks, Steve, for all the change you brought to my life. You made it immeasurably better. You’ll be remembered for many years to come and there won’t be another one of your kind to come soon. I’m so honored to have met you.