Google+ has made Twitter boring, here's what Twitter should do about that

For the past few days I’ve been hanging out in Jackson Hole with a bunch of geeks and one thing I’ve noticed over and over is how boring Twitter has gotten when compared to Google+.

Why has Twitter turned boring?

I’ve found several areas:

1. First experience.
2. Pictures and videos.
3. Control over content distribution.
4. No API, no auto pushing of content.
5. Signals are visible from who you excited and pissed off.
6. Auto flowing webpage.

So, let’s take each of these areas on, and talk about what Twitter could do to make users excited again.

FIRST EXPERIENCE

Forget everything you know about social networks. Now, visit my Twitter account. Then visit my Google Plus account.

Which one draws you in more? Which one shows engagement? Which one has a better about page? Which one shows passion, excitement, that something is happening? In all cases, Google+ is blowing away Twitter and it’s not even close.

So, what can Twitter do?

1. Buy Twylah. Look at my landing page there, it’s MUCH better than what’s on Twitter. Then, Twitter should add some stats on each twitterer. Stuff like “how many retweets has she gotten today?” or “how many @ replies does this user answer?” That would make Twitter more engaging and interesting.

2. Completely revamp the list idea in Twitter. If you follow one of my lists, which I’ve spent hundreds of hours on, they DON’T DO S**T ON YOUR ACCOUNT! This is so lame that it, alone, will get me to pour more time into Google+. But, what should they do? First, if you follow a list all those people’s tweets should be added to your home feed. Second, if you follow a list you should be able to send your Tweets to people on just that list. Third, if you follow a list, you should be able to send private messages to those people. Fourth, the people on the list should be able to tell the list itself whether that was OK or not.

3. Get rid of the freaking spam on search and give us amplification abilities and noise controls. Many new users will come because a blogger or someone will say “hey, we’re talking about the new iPad on Twitter.” Have you ever looked at a search for the word iPad? It’s full of crap and spam. There’s no way to say “only show me items written by people with a Klout score of more than 30 (which would get rid of the spam) or there’s no way for me to say “show me only items that say “Apple iPad” and that have a positive sentiment.” If there were, many new users would see the value in Twitter, especially around news and location. Instead, every search I’ve done lately is full of spam. Boring!

PICTURES AND VIDEOS

Google+ has beautiful photos and videos. Twitter? Just page after page of mind-numbing 140 character items. Now, Flipboard demonstrated to all of us that photos and videos CAN be added into the display, and the new Twitter UI does do some of that, but it just isn’t enough. Google+ is blowing Twitter away here.

So, what could Twitter do? Totally rethink the clients it owns, and rethink the stream itself. Let us add photos and videos into each tweet and, even, let us do that outside of the 140 character limit, which would let Twitter continue to blow away Google+ on where it is strong: which is on mobile.

CONTROL OVER CONTENT DISTRIBUTION

Google+ lets me publish a post to JUST A SINGLE PERSON +or+ to a small group of people, or, even, to a circle that has 5,000 members in it. Twitter has no such way to do this.

Why does this make Twitter boring? Well, because, my friends can feel safe sharing, um, “racier” posts with me on Google+ where on Twitter they either need to DM me, which isn’t as good as a group (my other friends can’t say “great photo” for instance) and isn’t nearly as nice.

What can Twitter do? Revamp lists. But Twitter’s management thinks lists suck, so I don’t see Twitter getting this feature anytime soon and that’s really too bad. It’s what will really put Twitter into a box and soon, you’ll see, how this affects search and all sorts of news. This is Twitter’s weakest point, and it will become more and more apparent that Twitter has blown a real opportunity here to make its system more interesting.

NO AUTO-PUSHING OF CONTENT ON GOOGLE+

I look at Twitter and a lot of it has turned into a boring RSS feed. I get items from news organizations, and even people now are using it to automatically Tweet (there are even systems that will send out tweets automatically at specific times). I don’t know who really posted these items, and I don’t get answers back from these people a lot of times because, well, they aren’t even online. Not true over on Google+. At least not yet.

This is one area where I’m not sure how Twitter can help, but Google has chat and “hangout” videoconferencing features, which help me see whether someone is really online and available (even Michael Dell has done a few hangouts and those really get people excited). So, I would add some interactive features into Twitter where the sender MUST be online and there to answer them.

YOU CAN SEE WHO YOU EXCITED AND WHO YOU PISSED OFF (and you can see same for other people)

On Google+ I can see if what you wrote excited or pissed people off. Why? There are comments right underneath it. As a writer this feedback makes Google+ extremely interesting. Why? Because I can change my behavior if I’m pissing people off, and my ego gets fed when I see 3,000 people commented and said “great post.” I am seeing a LOT of engagement on Google+ where on Twitter I can’t see that.

Quick, go visit Mike Arrington’s Twitter account and tell me of his last 20 tweets which ones pissed off the most people? Which ones thrilled the most people. But on Google+ that’s a simple chore.

What can Twitter do? List under each Tweet engagement statistics. How many times was it retweeted? Who retweeted it? Which one caused the most @ replies? What was the sentiment of those replies (there are lots of companies that can tell you whether a reply is positive or negative).

THE POSTS AUTOFLOW

If I open a web browser and put Twitter and Google+ side-by-side, one automatically shows me new stuff, one doesn’t. That makes Twitter look old and crappy. Yes, if you use newer Twitter clients you can get tweets to autoflow, but I’d rather have the web page do this like Google+ does.

Anyway, there are other things, as well. On Google+ the Notification page shows you anytime you get engagement. Twitter has nothing like that. It’s amazing how cool that is.

Are you finding the same thing? So far I’ve been asking the geeks I’m hanging out with here in Jackson Hole and they really are seeing these differences and wonder how Twitter will react to them.

Me too. So, Twitter, what you gonna do to keep from being seen as the most unexciting social network?

UPDATE: Here’s a post about this over on Google Plus so you can see the kind of engagement that I’m getting there.

Sometimes I really get it wrong; my apology to SEO industry

I’m not always right (I doubt anyone can in the world of tech if they are trying to predict the future) but here’s an example of when I got something really wrong (this was an example from my writing back in 2007). I thought more human-oriented approaches, like Mahalo, would get better results than algorithmic approaches, like Google. Why? I showed an example where SEO techniques had put stuff into Google searches that just wasn’t very good and compared that to where Mahalo had done a better job.

Anyway, it’s 2011 now and it’s clear that the Google way of doing things is still better for most people. It’s instructive to go back and see where I went wrong.

1. I didn’t listen to my own user behavior. Truth is, since 2007 I’ve rarely been to Mahalo. I rarely find that that site is authoritative on, well, anything. Compare it to Quora, for instance, and I find Quora more interesting in almost every case. I should have listened to my own behavior more.

2. I was trying to kiss someone’s behind and let that bias my conclusions. Why? I had visited Mahalo, gotten a tour of it with Jason Calacanis, who is an entrepreneurs who, back then, had a lot of power because he was a partner with Techcrunch and because he had successfully kicked off WeblogsInc, which included Engadget and sold to AOL. I assumed what he told me about where the industry was going was correct. As most journalists learn, I should have fact checked his statements. In college we learned “if your mother says she loves you you should check it out.” I didn’t, and now am facing the damage that happens when you say something that later turns out to be wrong.

3. I bet against momentum and user behavior. Truth is, even if Mahalo DID beat Google, it just wasn’t going to beat Wikipedia or Google itself. Why not? Mahalo couldn’t compete with the data Google had to study. Google knows a LOT more about our reading behavior than Mahalo does and can readjust its rankings accordingly (since 2007, for instance, Google brought out Instant Search which is far more useful for me than anything Mahalo has done. Why was that possible? Google has the user data, Mahalo doesn’t). Another more modern example of this is while I like Chewsy’s featureset, it is totally failing against Foodspotting because Foodspotting has more users. Same as I pointed out in my most recent post. Foursquare is beating Gowalla mostly because it has more users.

4. I went for cheap SEO tricks. Truth is, if you bash the SEO world they will all link to you, argue with you, etc. (Bloggers even have a name for this: “link bait”). Folks who do SEO as a profession love fighting about that stuff and it almost always works. But, does it really help you get the traffic you want? The reputation you want? No way. Putting up great content, like when I interviewed Mike McCue and told the world about Flipboard is a far more effective way to get good Google Juice. Taking shortcuts just tarnishes your reputation.

Anyway, just wanted to say I’m sorry to the SEO industry.

I’ll try to get it more right next time.

Can Disney help Gowalla in its battle with Foursquare?

I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve used Gowalla (a location-based checkin service you use on your phone). I’ve found that in most of the cities I visit Foursquare has more users, more tips, is faster, easier to check in, etc.

But when I arrived at DisneyWorld yesterday for a private tour with several Disney employees, among others, I learned that Disney liked Gowalla more. That got me to redownload the app onto one of my iPhones and as we went around the park I checked into both Gowalla and Foursquare.

Some things became clear immediately. Gowalla has a much more attractive design, and has a bunch of fun games to play as you visit different attractions. But I kept asking myself “will this experience get me to use Gowalla and, even more importantly, will it get average visitors to the park to use Gowalla.”

In the end analysis, no. Why not? Because even though Disney’s management likes Gowalla they haven’t made it easy for an average park visitor to find out about it. I never saw a “check into Gowalla here for a fun game” sign in any of the three parks we visited. I never saw Gowalla named in the brochures, maps, etc I got.

And, worse for Gowalla, when I did check in on Gowalla I never saw the number of users that I saw on Foursquare and the tips that Foursquare users left were generally more interesting than Gowalla’s better design and cool virtual objects left around to pick up.

What did I see on Gowalla? Tons of Disney employees playing, but after a while they even admitted there were some severe problems with Gowalla. Here’s a list of things that came up after using it all day long:

1. Gowalla is SLLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOWWWWW to check in. Foursquare consistently beat it on check in speed.
2. Gowalla still has problem checking in. Why? Because Gowalla has this lame philosophy that you must be exactly where you say you are checking in. Often times, though, we were already walking away from a ride when we remembered we didn’t check in. Foursquare let us check in while walking away. Gowalla often didn’t.
3. Gowalla didn’t let park experts fix bad entries, Foursquare did. Most of the people I was walking around with are Foursquare power users. Foursquare gives those kinds of users special abilities to fix their database in case ride names are misspelled, or some guest entered in a duplicate name, etc. We saw all sorts of evidence in Gowalla that there were mistakes, duplicates, etc, but in Foursquare there were none. Disney employees say they would fix mistakes, but aren’t given the ability to.

Then, once you get off park property it gets worse. As I type this I’m in Orlando’s airport. It says two of my friends are checked in here within the last three days. In the last hour there are three people listed in recent activity. I open up Foursquare and 74 other people are here along with 430 tips.

So, no contest, Disney can’t help Gowalla. Bums me out, cause I like the Gowalla team and design. But users beat all that. Disney should make a deal with Foursquare and get on board.

End of an era in technology (the world's most awesome tweetup)

STS-135 Last Shuttle Launch

When my friend Trey Ratcliff (he’s a great photographer who builds iPhone/iPad apps, among other things) begged me to come to the Shuttle launch I never imagined I’d be standing on the grass in front of the countdown clock with tears streaming down my face.

So, why was I here? Well, I got a special invite to be part of NASA’s Tweetup.

What was that? NASA invited 150 people to the Kennedy Space Center to get a very intimate look at the operation here. They gave us better access than a lot of the press get and I think I met four astronauts so far. I interviewed one on my iPhone, while standing in front of the Shuttle.

The NASA Tweetup in front of the Space Shuttle

One bit of credit: NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz put on the best Tweetup I’ve ever been a part of. Part of that, for sure, is cause she had so much to work with, but she — and her team — just treated everyone so wonderfully and I was able to watch how hard they worked. They randomly picked most of the participants out of 5,000 applicants (I was one of a handful who were actually invited, I took vacation time to go and didn’t charge Rackspace for anything).

If you get a chance to go on a future NASA Tweetup, go. It is an amazing experience and one where you’ll get to do incredible things.

But, back to the end of an era in technology. After the launch, I interviewed NASA’s Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, about the changes that are happening in NASA now. You can listen to that interview, but what you can’t see is we both had tears in our eyes.

A few people this week have tweeted at me and said “what a waste of money.” Well, sorry, I don’t see it that way. As humans we should always be exploring.

But I am excited that we’re moving toward a more private, and lower-cost, method of taking people into space. I doubt I’ll live long enough to be able to fly affordably into space (maybe) but my kids certainly will. I can’t wait to see the Elon Musks of the world take us into that new world.

That said, this is an end of an era. One that started when we were in a cold-war fight with the Russians. Now our astronauts are forced to fly on Russian spaceships. All around me are evidence of the huge costs that our country took on back in the 1960s to get to the moon. But the Shuttle continued that kind of thinking. Now we’ll have to do space travel for a lot less. For a lot of people who work at Kennedy Space Center that means a lot of disruption.

Anyway, here’s some of my photos from an incredible week in my life (there are more on my Flickr account).

Trey Ratcliff, photographer, in front of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Speaking of photos, I interviewed Trey Ratcliff yesterday. He’s one of my favorite photographers and is a world expert on HDR photography.

I got to meet many of my heroes. Here’s Bob Crippen, who piloted the first Shuttle back in 1981 when I was in High School. He’s juxtaposed by the crew of the last Shuttle Crew getting set in Atlantis.

First and last

The Tweetup participants got to wave to the astronauts as they headed toward the launch pad. This is something I’ve always seen on TV, but here it was in real life in front of me.

Astronauts drive by Tweetup Participants @nasatweetup

Along one side of the press area are small block buildings where the big networks have their setups. Aimed right into the famous countdown clock. Jim Long, NBC Cameraman, invited me in to get a tour. You know him as NewMediaJim on Twitter (he is on the camera crew in the White House).

Newmediajim inside NBC's newsroom

This morning this is the view that greeted me at my parking space. I got emotional. So much of my life has been influenced by the vehicles built inside the Vertical Assembly Building (I got to go inside, something very few people from the public get to do). One of my earliest memories is sitting with my family watching the trip to the moon. That was the beginning of our modern era of space.

Today was the end and, yes, that is sad.

Why yo daddy won't use Google+: no noise control

OK, there are a few people giving me heck for using sexist language in my last post. Sorry for pandering to my audience, but when I visit engineering teams at tech companies around the world they are mostly male. At the recent WWDC (Apple’s developer conference) there were so few women in the audience that the professional press started talking about it. So the post resonated better than if I had started “why yo daddy won’t use it.” But I wanna be fair and non-sexist, and VC Fred Wilson gave me that opportunity this morning.

He says his dad will like Google+.

Um, Fred, no he won’t (and neither will most average people) and here’s why. But first, I agree with Fred that a healthy competitor to Facebook would be a good thing, more on that later.

Look forward a couple of months from now, or maybe six, when Google+’s new car smell wears off and all of us elitist, sexist, ageist geeks have something new to poke around with and get excited by (new iPhone anyone?)

Then we’ll all judge Google+ by its utility, not by its new car smell (and it is a damn fine smell, believe me).

The big problem will become quite apparent that there’s no noise control. Yes, this is what made FriendFeed, Google Buzz, and other systems seem lame and why Facebook continues to be more interesting to most people in the world.

What do I mean by that?

Well, I spent a lot of time going through thousands of people’s social graphs (IE, their list of friends on Google+) and I’ve picked out all of the VCs and put them into a circle.

I’m looking at that list right now. Problem is it isn’t giving me ONE THING that I expect VCs to talk about. There isn’t one item that talks about funding new companies, gives me some insider look into Silicon Valley, or that gives me tips for how to run my company to get better returns.

Instead I see Joi Ito’s dive pictures, Ryan Spoon talking about Facebook Places, David Lee changed his profile photo, Francine Hardaway posted some funny animated GIF, Paul Buchheit talking about Twitter celebrities. And on and on and on it goes.

There is no utility here. Yes, it’s sorta fun, yes, geeks love to see the dive photos that that Joi shoots around the world (me too, but it’s hardly what I expected to be able to see here and actually it’s better to see those photos linked to from Twitter and displayed in Flipboard).

So, until Google gives us the ability to control noise Google+ will continue not being used by average people (my metaphorical “yo momma and yo daddy.”

The thing is what is noise control?

Two things, one of which Google is known for:

1. Search. The ability to say “show me all cool new items that talk about venture capital.”
2. Sifting. This is similar to search, but goes beyond. “Show me all future items that talk about venture capital.”

Now, if Google+ had both of those things, along with a few other features, then Fred Wilson’s daddy and yo momma might see some deep utility in a service like Google+.

One last thought on this noise control thing. Facebook has a really deep achilles heel that’s associated with this. It’s that everyone over there was so freaked out by Zuckerberg’s privacy grab that they turned on most of the privacy settings. I recently went through many of my Facebook friends and some had gotten so freaked out that they — even though they were my friends and I meet them quite often — stopped letting me see their wall (I unfriended anyone who did that because it totally removed any utility Facebook has, which is to let me see your fun photos of you living your life). Jeff Jarvis noticed this too and totally nailed it as something that Google is doing way better.

So, if you take what Google+ is doing better (encouraging people to share more publicly) and you put it with some noise control (er, search features) then we have something.

Until then, yo momma and yo daddy ain’t gonna be on Google+.

By the way, geeks are arguing with me about this post over on Google+.

Why yo momma won't use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end)

OK, I’ve been putting many hours into Google+. In just the few days that it’s been released I’ve followed 2,723 people, written many dozens of posts there, and have thoroughly used the product. I’ve also tried to get some normal users into the product, starting with my wife (we argued for 45 minutes about it) and I’ve come to some conclusions. Here’s the biggie:

Your mom won’t use Google+.

How can I state that so clearly? Easy. Most “average users” are locked into Facebook and aren’t willing to consider a new social tool until they hear about it from their friends. Since most of the people who are on Google+ so far are geeks, insiders, social media stars, journalists, and other people (Google admitted tonight they are only accepting people who have strong social graphs so that they can both make sure everyone has a good first experience as well as test out some of the technology before opening it up to a wider audience) the chances normal people (metaphorically speaking, your mom) won’t hear about Google+ from normal users for quite a while.

By then I’m sure Facebook will react (ie, copy) Google+’s best features (Facebook already has called a press conference for next week where they are going to announce something “awesome”). This will mean that normal users, who aren’t really going to get involved at this point in Google+’s life, won’t feel the need to switch.

So, what is Google+ for then?

It’s for us!

Come on now, we geeks and early adopters and social media gurus need a place to talk free of folks who think Justin Bieber is the second coming of Christ. That’s what we have in Google+ right now. Do we really want to mess that up?

Plus, let’s just be honest here. There are pieces of Google+ that are mighty geeky.

Let’s start with how to bold and italicize text. Do you have a pretty editing window like, say, exists on Quora? No way.

To bold text you surround that text with asterisks. *Like this* GEEKY ALERT! Italicize? Put underscores around the text. Strikeout? Put hyphens around it.

And that’s just the little thing. Let’s talk about the big thing. Circles. Now, heavy and passionate users of social media, like myself, really love things like lists and groups. Why? Because we want to spend hundreds of hours making sure our social graphs are really organized.

Normal people do NOT do this. They just want to friend their 20 real-life friends and 30 family folks and be done with it. Average/normal users want the system just to bring them fun stuff without doing any work.

See, if you put the average Silicon Valley geek in front of a TV and tell him to sit on the couch and watch TV for four hours they won’t know what to do. They will start building databases of their favorite shows, start figuring out how to optimize their DVRs so they can fast-forward through commercials faster, and stuff like that.

Normal/average users? They just want to watch TV and drink beer.

So, you getting where I’m going with this? Google+ is for the passionate users of tech. If you just want to sit back and have the system do all the work (which means it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for most people) then Facebook is gonna be where you stay, especially since your friends are gonna lock you in for quite some time. But if you want to really be able to choose who you listen to, then Google+ is much better.

Oh, and that’s not even considering the new “Hangout” videochat feature. Damn that thing is cool. You can have 10 people call into a room and it lets you all talk to each other. I haven’t used Skype since that shipped.

Anyway, it’s clear Google has turned a corner. They have now proven to everyone that they can do social and get on the playing field.

But they haven’t yet proven that they can convince your mom to use it and that’s just fine with me.

That all is a long way of saying that I really love Google+ and I don’t care what the average user thinks of it. I’m getting a ton of utility out of it and I am having a blast with it. Hope to see you there soon, but please leave yo momma over on Facebook, OK?