OK, now I’ve had a bit of time to play with Google Buzz and everywhere I look I see a badly-executed copy of FriendFeed.
With two important exceptions:
1. Google Buzz actually has a lot of users and much better information flowing through its veins. There’s a reason that FriendFeed doesn’t have many users: it has some very anti-user features that retard user adoption (back when I was excited about FriendFeed I kept hoping that FriendFeed was going to fix some of their issues).
2. It has pretty nice location features built in, especially if you use Google Maps on Android.
But, they made some horrid mistakes. Let’s detail them:
1. They are infatuated with real time flow (items flow down my screen) but unlike FriendFeed they didn’t give you an option to turn that off. For users who are following a lot of people, like me, that makes Google Buzz unusable.
2. They love comments, but that leads to the chat room problem I talked about earlier. But Google Buzz actually made comments worse than FriendFeed did. They didn’t give us moderation capabilities. They don’t let you block people right from comments like FriendFeed did.
3. Unlike FriendFeed they don’t let you group your friends into lists. This makes using it with more than small groups very frustrating and pushes me back to Twitter where list support is an important part of my experience now.
4. They didn’t give us any filtering capabilities. FriendFeed got very close to having good filtering with its real time search engine that let you do things like “show me all items with the word ‘Obama’ but only show me items that have four likes or more.” That was very powerful, Google hasn’t even tried yet to do real time search or filtering like this.
5. Adding friends is frustrating, especially for someone who is getting added by hundreds of people a day. Google could really have innovated here, but they didn’t add anything Twitter or FriendFeed doesn’t have.
6. On Google Buzz, as with FriendFeed, A-list users get too much engagement and attention and that keeps putting their posts at the top of the feed. Google copied FriendFeed’s worst feature, that where items that get engagement keep popping to the top. I desperately want a strict reverse-chronological feed so I can just see items once, and not 300 times as they get engaged with.
7. They copied FriendFeed’s like feature, but didn’t do the most important thing: let me see all the likes by a single person. Over on FriendFeed I can see what Mike Arrington has liked, or commented on. I can’t do that in Google Buzz.
8. I turned off bringing Tweets and FriendFeed items into Google Buzz. Why? Because unlike on FriendFeed my readers can’t turn off just my Tweets. That makes Google Buzz very noisy.
9. They copied FriendFeed’s second worst feature: that comments bring people into my view that I don’t know, don’t care about, and Google Buzz gave me even fewer ways to control or moderate that. I wish there were a way to hide all comments until I want to see comments, for instance.
10. They also copied FriendFeed’s lack of curation features. For instance, Google Buzz has no way to bundle their items together into a single URL.
11. They copied the worst part of FriendFeed’s UI: the boring look but didn’t copy FriendFeed’s best part of the UI, the clean and simple feed. I keep getting boxes and other crap in my feed which reduces the number of items on my screen.
12. They copied the photo feature from FriendFeed, but, like FriendFeed, didn’t give me any control over size of images or anything else, either.
As I type this I’m at 37,000 feet and watching CNN. On CNN they showed off that Google Buzz is hard to use. Well, duh. They copied FriendFeed’s worst features and didn’t innovate.
And I won’t even get into all the privacy issues others had with earlier versions of Google Buzz.
So, Google, why did you copy FriendFeed’s worst features? Is there any way we can work together to find a better system? I really find Twitter and Facebook lacking too, and keep hoping someone brings out a dramatically better system but haven’t seen it yet.
The world needs a curation system, for instance. But until you stop copying other systems’ worst features I don’t feel you’ll even understand what users want.
First, let’s get the elephant out of the way so we can talk about more important things. What is the elephant? No, it’s not Larry Page, co-founder of Google, seen above waving to the audience at TED after he gave them all a free Nexus One.
So, what is the elephant? That TED costs $6,000 and is hard to get into (next year’s TED is already sold out, for instance). They never give away more than 15 press passes, too, which means that most of the world’s press corp can’t get in. This always pisses off people, just as it did to Sarah Lacy, writer at TechCrunch.
I don’t have $6,000 and I doubt I’ll get invited next year for free and, even if I could gather $6,000, it’s sold out for next year anyway.
But, let’s take the elephant head on: rich people can afford things you and I can’t. I can’t afford a Ferrari either. Even though I definitely appreciate them. I can’t afford a private plane, even though when I’ve gotten a ride in one I’ve always appreciated them and can see why I’d want one. I can’t afford an original Ansel Adams’ print, either, even though I am a huge fan and would love to have one.
So, let’s turn it around. You should know that in 2008 I took a similar stance to Sarah’s. That TED is unattainable for most people, and that it’s a closed society, etc. What did I do about it? I went to BIL, a free event that goes on at TED. I will attend that again next year because I seriously doubt that I’ll be able to get into TED. But I am trying to go one further, I will try to get the money together to buy BIL a video feed from inside TED.
But since attending I’ve changed my stance from the one I had in 2008. What is the one now? Jealous people should just keep their mouths shut. And I’ll include me in that stance.
Truth is, TED has opened up its content to the world. More than 500 talks have now been shared on TED Talks.
On the TED stage I saw that they had hundreds of events where the live feed was broadcast, including many into Silicon Valley (several VCs and entrepreneurs invited me to view TED with them at their houses, or work offices). Rackspace bought the feed too and lots of my coworkers were talking with me about the talks. So, getting access to the content might not be attainable by everyone in real time, but is certainly attainable eventually by everyone.
The funny thing is just a couple of weeks ago Sarah Lacy was at an exclusive venture capital event in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I wasn’t invited. Neither were you, probably. Did she disclose the elitism of this event? No way. Does she disclose all the closed parties or events she gets invited to that me and you don’t get invited to? No way. One rule of closed parties is you don’t Tweet about them or you don’t get invited back.
I assume I won’t get invited to TED next year and that this year I won the lottery and next year, well, the lottery won’t strike twice. So, that gives me a sort of mental freedom to tell you what I really think of this event.
But here’s the rub: I will be at TED next year if I am alive. And the year after that. And the year after that. I will pay for it and get there somehow.
Why? It was the most incredible event I’ve ever attended. By far.
What makes TED TED? Well, for one, it’s TED because Sarah wasn’t there (and I won’t be there next year because I didn’t pay the $6,000 in time). Its elitism and expense IS part of why TED is magical and if you ever get to go, either because you have the money to attend, or because somehow you won the lottery like I did and you go to go you’ll see that it is magical, in the same way that James Cameron shared with us that visiting the Titanic for real is magical (he did just that). Damn elitists. Having experiences I can’t have.
TED should be PROUD of the elephant in the room. It should embrace it far more than they do. The attendees there should celebrate it and run with it. Many do. One VC told me as we were leaving yesterday that the expense not only makes networking world class but that it ensures that people actually attend and listen to the lectures. Want proof? Look at the notes that these rich people took. I’ve never seen notes like these at any other event. After all, rich people can have parties with other rich people anytime they want. But TED isn’t like any rich guy party I’ve ever been to and I’ve been fortunate enough to be at more than my fair share (heck, remember, I live right by the Half Moon Bay Ritz which is a rich-guy party every night of the year. I can’t afford to stay there either).
What is TED? It’s a celebration of human performance. On the TED stage we saw some of the best scientists the world has ever known. Some of the best dancers (you’ll see them on stage at the Oscars, by the way, don’t miss them). Some of the best musicians. Some of the best entrepreneurs. Some of the best children. Some of the best politicians.
It is one event where you not only get to see them on stage, and if you watch TED Talks you know what that’s about, but you get to meet them in the hallways and talk with them. A couple of days ago I talked with Bill Gates about his ideas for nuclear energy. Controversial yes, but the guy does his homework and knows more on the topic of energy than anyone else I’ve ever met.
It is a celebration of learning. Learning means pushing yourself beyond where you are today. Yesterday we heard a story from a girl who has been told she has three years to live. What is she doing? Going to school and she explained why in a way that brought a tear to many eyes around the world. She wasn’t even at Long Beach, but was attending the sessions in Palm Springs, which is where there was a video feed and a separate set of talks. Proves you didn’t need to go to TED to go to TED and that TED doesn’t cost $6,000 for everyone, you can see it in Palm Springs for less, or in a video feed for even less.
But the $6,000 everyone pays helps in ways you can’t really understand unless you go. First, the stage is hand built. During some talks my mind got a little bored (not every talk is interesting, one talk about spiders didn’t have the famous TED payoff and I found myself back in Chemistry class, learning stuff I probably will never use so my mind went elsewhere). My eyes started wandering around the stage. I looked at this stage for two days before I noticed a little model airplane hanging from the top. Did you see the stack of National Geographics at the front left? Or the microscope at the front right? Those details don’t sound important, but they weave together a fabric that encourages your mind to explore new ideas.
Blow this photo up that I shot of James Cameron. Now look at just some of the weird stuff they put around the stage.
You might think that doesn’t matter, but it does. It’s a fabric that encourages your mind to absorb and synthesize the ideas discussed. But it does more than that. It makes being at TED an ultra-HD experience. One that you can’t really get from the TED Talks, although even in video you notice a visual richness that’s just not there in other conferences. It’s the details and the details cost money.
Second, it helps in bringing speakers from around the world. Third it helps in hiring world class video teams so you can watch them for free at home. Fourth it helps in details, which makes this a remarkable event, one unlike any other I’ve attended.
Details like the food. Details like the badges, which are the best in the business. Details like the sound system, which was most excellent and contrasts with the sound in most other conferences (I sat in both the front row and the back and it was awesome).
Details like the exhibits strewn around the conference hallways.
I could go on and on.
OK, let’s take on another elephant in the room. The Sarah Silverman talk, which Techcrunch also wrote about (interesting that they write so much about TED). She used the word penis and retarded a lot. I thought her talk both failed and succeeded, but not because of that.
I thought it was brilliant of TED to invite some speakers on stage that were very risky. Silverman wasn’t the only one. In the closing talk Ze Frank asked whether what the world really needed was penis-flavored condoms. Other speakers talked frankly about sex, or showed graphic images that would challenge any audience.
Silverman succeeded because her talk was a science experiment, albeit one of trying something out on a much different audience than she usually gets to perform in front of. TED is all about trying out ideas and seeing which ones are the best and hearing from the people who do the best experiments, from dance to algorithms. Silverman is the best at her craft alive today. Or certainly in the top .001%.
It was why she was on the TED stage. She used that opportunity to try to challenge the audience. That was successful and I hope TED invites her again to perform another one of her experiments on stage.
But it failed too. I found her talk repulsive and challenging. I was in the second row. I actually was one of those who called for her to come back out on stage, although I knew that she had challenged the audience in a way that would be viewed as a failure. She challenged me quite a bit with her experiment. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that Chris Anderson, the guy who runs TED, had said she was “god-awful” on Twitter (he now has removed that tweet).
I didn’t have a chance to discuss that talk with Chris, but I would say that he was wrong and right. He was right that her talk wasn’t up to the usual TED quality but that she represented the best of what TED is: science experiments in human living.
See, science experiments RARELY succeed. Thomas Edison said that you know him for his successes, but that if you really knew him you’d see his thousands of failures.
TED needs more Sarah Silvermans who will try content experiments out on stage. I hope it doesn’t become some conservative organization that only lets safe people and safe ideas on stage.
If I talked with Sarah Silverman, though, I would have encouraged her to attend a TED before she talked (I heard she was only there for that morning). If she had, I’m sure she would have tried a different experiment on this particular audience than the one she attempted.
Anyway, so many ideas challenged me and inspired me over the past few days. Already a couple of the videos have come out, here’s those:
Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food — Sharing powerful stories from his anti-obesity project in Huntington, W. Va., TED Prize winner Jamie Oliver makes the case for an all-out assault on our ignorance of food. (This was my favorite talk of the event).
Augmented-reality maps: Blaise Aguera y Arcas on TED.com — In a demo that drew gasps at TED2010, Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos new augmented-reality mapping technology from Microsoft. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: 8:14)
My favorite part of TED was PUBLIC, though. It was the afterparty at the Westin. Check this video out of that party:
So, to wrap this up, don’t be jealous, let’s figure out how to get more of you into TED.
UPDATE: I totally forgot the work that the Sapling foundation, which supports the TEDx prize, does to support science around the world too. Glad that Stephen Collins reminded me of that. Oh, and many of the attendees actually pay more than $6,000 because they want to support the foundation’s work in a deeper way.
OK, I’ve given you the reasons why Google will be successful this time, but why won’t what they announce tomorrow give Twitter or Facebook a buzz cut? Funny aside, I found this photo of Matt Mullenweg (the entrepreneur behind WordPress) getting a buzz cut by using Google’s Social Circles search.
Some things that will keep Google from giving either Twitter or Facebook a buzz cut tomorrow (yes, I’ve been leaked some info about what’s coming tomorrow, so you gotta read in between the lines here):
1. Facebook has a defensible position in identity. Visit Huffington Post, or tons of other sites, and you’ll see the hooks that Facebook has that Google is NOT going to be able to rip out tomorrow, even if they have a really great offering.
2. Google isn’t trusted socially. Google is so large and has so much of our data that lots of us really don’t want Google to beat up on Facebook or Twitter.
3. Google doesn’t have Mark Zuckerberg. Mark gets how to hook people in through social tricks that very few people understand. FriendFeed, for instance, didn’t get it. Neither does Twitter. Most people think of Mark as an awesome businessperson or a tech genius (his major at Harvard was computer science), but most people don’t know his minor was Psychology. He studies how people work and how they get addicted to things at a level that Google’s founders struggle to understand. Google’s founders are also not nearly as comfortable around other people as Mark is. Everytime I meet Larry Page or Sergey Brin it’s tough to get them to talk socially. Mark, on the other hand, hugs people and is easier to just hang around and be personable with. That difference translates into the software that Facebook makes and how it hooks people in. Look at the tags on photos in Facebook, for instance. They hook people in in a way that no other service has yet.
4. Google has big company disease that Twitter never had. Watch Google tomorrow to integrate tons of services together in a way that looks like FriendFeed or Facebook. Of course YouTube videos, Google Maps, Picasa, and other things will be linked together in an aggregated feed. Now compare to Twitter. Twitter doesn’t have these “strategy taxes.” For all its sins (and Twitter has many sins) it has stayed pure and hasn’t strayed from 140-characters of text only.
5. Google doesn’t have developers that Facebook has. Facebook has a whole industry of folks who’ve made tons of applications for its users. Many of these are lame, yes, but others integrate Facebook with outside services and, better yet, hook you in to play games or do other things. Think about how Zynga got so big by selling virtual tractors inside a game on Facebook. That won’t exist on Google’s platform. At least not tomorrow. Tomorrow’s announcement is another platform move, look for the developer-centric stuff to come at its I/O Conference in April.
6. Google isn’t willing to piss its users off to get to the next level. Zuckerberg is willing to piss off Facebook’s users by changing the platform. He is in the midst of changing his platform once again from something that was only for private friends and family to something that’s more public so that Facebook can effectively compete in search (or, at least, be like Twitter and sell its feeds to Google or Microsoft). Google just isn’t willing to do that over and over.
Anyway, what will the Google service do? It’ll put a final nail into FriendFeed. Not that it needed it, that service is on its way down anyway, because its team has been focusing almost wholly on the larger Facebook service, but it will take the real time aggregated feed I liked there and bring it to Google in a nicer way.
What else will the Google service do? Build expectations around real time search. Mike Arrington was right when he said he needs much better filtering last night.
So, look for a neat system to come out that will be useful for many of us, but don’t look for it to take much buzz away from Twitter or Facebook.
Orkut. Used it? I did back in 2002, but since then? No one I know uses it.
Jaiku. Used it? I did back in 2006, but since then? No one I know uses it.
Dodgeball. Used it? I did back in 2006, but since then? No one I know uses it.
These are just a few of the failures Google has had trying to figure out the social space.
Um, I’ve learned in life that past behavior is the best predictor of future results.
So, why is Google going to succeed THIS time when its past experiences into social networking have failed and failed miserably?
I’ve identified a few:
1. This time they built everything in house. All the efforts above were purchased companies that were bolted onto existing infrastructure. This time? Look at the foundational pieces that Google has put in place. Google Profiles lets you enter the social networks you’re on. Check out mine, I’ve told it more already about myself than I’ve told Facebook. Then take a look at Google’s Social Circles. Social Circles is a clue that Google is studying ALL social networks, not just Facebook and Twitter. Some of my friends’ entries there have hundreds of websites and social networks listed there. It’ll be very interesting to see what Google does with those tomorrow. Hopefully a feed like FriendFeed had, along with real time search that’s filterable.
2. Employees on board. In 2006 whenever I talked with a Google employee about social stuff like Twitter or Facebook they’d turn their noses and say something derogatory. “That’s lame,” is what I heard over and over. It was clear that the rank and file Google employee just didn’t think Twitter or Facebook would ever challenge Google in any real way. I haven’t heard that attitude for quite a while now. You just have to look at Compete.com for why.
3. Mobile has made social more important. Look at the average mobile phone ad in the United States. A good percentage of them mention both Twitter and Facebook. Google can’t ignore this fact, especially now that Google is pushing Android on small devices and Chrome OS on bigger ones. Google knows that carriers see social networks as important things to push, so if Google can bring something new and interesting that will get people and brands to even talk about switching from Facebook or Twitter, it will be interesting to watch. Look for Google Contacts to add much better integration with all of the social networks that Google’s Social Circles algorithms are collecting. Yes, Palm got there first, but Palm doesn’t really matter, so look for Google to exploit that fact with really deep integration with contacts.
5. Normal users are hungry. Normal users I talk to have now figured out Facebook. Most have played with Twitter and found it lacking, they tell me, but they are interested in other uses of social networking now. The market is primed for a new service to come along that shows us something new. Will Google deliver that tomorrow? Well, we only have a few hours to wait. But there is a latent unsatisfied interest, especially because Facebook has made its privacy stance confusing with its founder saying that we are in a post privacy world.
6. Location-based services are gathering attention. Well, at least they are being adopted by early adopters and, thanks to deals with TV networks and others, Foursquare, at least, is starting to move out of the early-adopter echo chamber and into the mainstream. Even Yelp has copied Foursquare’s “check in” metaphor and has primed the market for Google to come in and demonstrate some real leadership here. Interesting to note that Google Latitude has largely failed too when compared to the smaller upstarts. Will Google turn around its failures here?
7. Google HAS won in video and done fairly well in blogging. YouTube is a huge adoption success, even if it hasn’t yet made Google much money. That said, most of my friends are noticing that more and more users are coming into YouTube (indeed, even I’ve switched much of my video publishing to my channel there and I’m seeing strong subscriber and engagement growth). While services like Redux or Tweetmeme show you just videos that have been shared on Twitter and Facebook, look for Google to build on this strength.
8. Google has the best email and collaboration suite users. Whenever I speak at a conference of early adopters most people say they are now using Google Mail. That’s huge because these early adopters are the types that are willing to try new things and, better yet, are willing to tell their friends how cool they are. Look at how Google Wave — despite a crappy user interface — became very popular very quickly. Why? Because of this army of early adopters. See, email users are NOT all equal. Next time you are on a plane, look around you. Is the guy who is using Outlook 2003 using anything else that’s bleeding edge? Not very likely. Now look at the Gmail users, they are more likely to have a bleeding edge mobile phone, they are more likely to have a Windows 7 or Macintosh laptop. They are more likely to try things. They are more valuable because of that and is why Yahoo or Microsoft never were really able to capitalize on their hundreds of millions of email customers. Plus, look how Google integrated Docs and Spreadsheets into Gmail. Look for them to do the same thing with their social network efforts. It’ll be nuanced and addictive. If I were Gist or Xobni you bet I’d be worried about what’s coming tomorrow.
Anyway, this is all a long way of me saying that don’t expect Google to keep failing at this social networking thing. Its past behavior is NOT a predictor of what’s coming tomorrow.
The TED conference has given me a huge responsibility. They’ve handed me one of a small handful of press badges (as I understand it fewer than 10 are handed out every year). Regular tickets are $6,000 each and the conference was sold out more than a year ago (next year’s TED is already sold out).
They do put a major restraint on the press covering the event: no filming, or recording of sessions. Another restraint? No computers in the main session unless you want to sit in the back row. OK, I can live with that. So I doubt you’ll see a view of TED like I got of Chris Anderson, TED’s curator, in photo above, while he spoke at LeWeb.
But, really, this isn’t an event that generates news (except when last year Bill Gates released a bunch of mosquitos). If you’ve ever watched a TED Talk you’ll know that this isn’t about news, but is about expanding your mind. Coming up with new ideas. Hearing from people who are changing the world and being challenged to do the same with your own life.
In fact, they’ve asked me to not bring my computer or phones to the main sessions and just absorb the TED experience (Chris Anderson, the guy who runs TED, spoke at LeWeb a year ago and walked into the audience and told them all to close their laptops and listen, he really believes that we can’t learn if we’re multi-tasking and paying attention to email). As you might expect I’m thrilled at being asked to do this and I’m even going to report my time at the conference as vacation so that I won’t feel pressured to take care of Rackspace business while I’m there).
But when people invite you to a conference that costs everyone else $6,000 they are laying a huge responsibility to that person.
The question is, what’s the responsibility?
For me, I’m going to try to get as many interviews as I can outside of the main room. That’s one way of delivering value to you. But that’s just the baseline of the kind of responsibility that I’m feeling going into this. Can I step up my game this year? Can I improve the world my children are growing up in? That’s a little closer to the weight I feel through this gift.
Siri is the most useful thing I’ve seen so far this year.
But after playing with it, getting an interview with its CEO (video here on building43) it’s even more important for you to pay attention to.
It is the best example of what the web will be.
Let’s go back.
Web 1994 was the “get me a domain and a page” era.
Web 2000 was the “make my page(s) interactive and put people on it” era.
Web 2010 is the “get rid of pages and glue APIs and people together” era.
Siri is the best example. First, it’s not a website. It’s an application you put on your phone (today iPhone, soon others like Android and Blackberry). Second, it isn’t a search engine, those are so 1998. It’s a system that assists you in your life.
Before it was common only for a couple of APIs to be joined together, here they have dozens. The system figures out which ones need to be used based on what you’re asking for.
That’s the other thing. You ask it to do stuff like “find me a pizza place near me” or “tell me the weather in Chicago this weekend.” With your voice or by typing commands.
Why is this really new and important? Don’t get confused by the awesome voice recognition engine that figures out your speech and what you want with pretty good accuracy. No, that’s not the really cool thing, although Microsoft and other companies have been working on natural language search for many years now and have been failing to come up with anything as useful as Siri.
No, the real secret sauce and huge impact on the future of the web is in the back end of this thing. A few months back the engineers at Siri gave me a secret look at how they stitch the APIs into the system. They’ve built a GUI that helps them hook up the APIs from, say, a new source like Foursquare, into the language recognition engine.
I just asked Siri “who checked into the Half Moon Bay Ritz?”
Now you and I know that we could look at Foursquare to find that answer, but Siri didn’t know the answer and brought me results from Bing. Very unsatisfying.
But the team now could hook up Foursquare’s APIs and make this question answerable.
Siri has developed a new programming language and GUI for the API web. This is huge, although it’s too bad that it’s so early and so hidden. We can’t help Siri’s developers out (if we could, maybe we could add Foursquare’s APIs tonight) and we can’t think of ways to make systems like Foursquare that would have APIs better designed to talk with a system like Siri’s.