Less is More…

DarwinismI will soon learn that in journalism, less is more…even on a blog…

Don’t worry, I will evolve soon! 🙂

Advertisements

Google+ – Innovation Lost?

Google+ Google+ {#GP },  so far, has been a great successor to the Google Buzz platform. [There is a “BUT!” in that sentence, but FIRST lets talk about the positives!] Google+ is an evolved way of connecting and collaborating in your social graph. It has a clean intuitive interface, with some exceptional ideas around organizing a person’s connections to other people and, once connected, a couple innovative ways to collaborate with your grouped connections. Based on those features, as a software system, so far, Google+ has three positive reinforcements.

The question I want to pose to you all, as of 7/5/2011, is Google+ really a Social Network? Is it a Social Network that can compete with well-established ones such as Facebook, Twitter, and others? {Keep reading, objections and suggestions are to come…}

After a couple weeks, since Google Plus’s inception, consumers have had the chance to read about Google+’s focused beta from the perceptions of journalists and technologists. Most\All of their observations have been positive praising the new system as the “The Next Generation of Social Networking.” For lack of a better phrase, “What the heck are these people talking about?!”

Google+ lets you do four things:

One, create “Circles” or “Group Contacts together” to organize people. People can be in multiple Circles at once.

Two, Google+ allows people to post short/long immersive narratives, or posts, including pictures, links, videos, your location, and giving people the ability to filter who sees your post using your previously grouped contacts or circles.

Three, Google+ allows people to collaborate with “Circles”, or grouped contacts, using their HangOut feature which is a 10 person group video chat that uses an external browser plugin.

Four, Google+ gives you the ability to retrieve a constant, incremental, feed of information on subjects you are interested called “Sparks.”

The User Interface (UI) for Google+ is very clean, like its predecessor Google Buzz, using some new HTML5 UI techniques.

The first two features are VERY simple, and have been done 100’s of times before in 100’s, if not 1000’s, of other software systems. How does this make Google+ a revolutionary NEW Social Network?

It doesn’t!

Commonality:
Google+ uses Buzz/Twitter like features for posting updates At linked Contacts or mentions (@Someone), links, pictures, and videos. It organizes “Friends” or “Contacts” into a metaphor called “Circles”, which is similar to Facebook’s “Lists”, but with a cleaner User Interface. Their “Sparks” feature is similar to their Real-time feed on their Google Search platform focused around a static set of subjects you can choose and share as posts.  Google is allowing posts on their Plus system to resemble closely to Blog posts that are only containing one link/URL, one photo, and an out-of-band set of pictures attached to the post. Sure, Google is combing features nicely, but what about this system makes you, or anyone, want to use it over the others?

Where are the awesome features that abstract the complexities of social graphs, interactions, and collaboration? Where are the relationships of things, inferred or otherwise? Where are the amazing, almost artificial intelligence like, features that infer relationships, interests and ideas using Google’s massive set of data {metadata} they have collected over years of search? Google+, so far, is not revolutionary at all. It is a more of an organized contact\search system with post capability.

Let me compare Google+, and other social networks, to similar business based systems that have been around for a while. In years past, consumers, like you, have used Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM systems) where businesses can collaborate with customers, prospects or existing, in order to maintain a deep relationship with them. The basis of all CRM systems is “Lists of consumers grouped by relationships.”  Some CRM systems have extended functionality letting you collaborate with the same consumers, tracking these collaborations, inferring relationships, and adding intelligence systems that help automate processes.

A CRM system, as described above, is a more focused, more advanced, Social Network than any of the available consumer-public ones today. Google+ is far from being a true Social Network.

Suggestions:
Listing contacts and organizing them is not a Social Network feature, it is a tedious task of trying to move existing contacts and social circles from one system to the next without importing or migration features. People already setup their “Social Network” on Facebook, why would they EVER want to do it again unless Google+ imported it? Google+ should find a way to pull contact information, whether it is from flat text files, email systems, or other social networks, and allow the user to easily organize these people. It could possibly even automatically deduced, implicit, relationships between you and these circles, between social circles, and even between social circles and subjects. Google+ could find a revolutionary way to sift through the noise of everyday news, posts, and chatter, in order to bring what is important and interesting closer to you.

Posts/Updates in Google+, so far, are just ways for people to either update their contacts on what they are doing, narrate to them on a subject, or just spew/share links and pictures to them. Why not add ways to create posting branches. Allow a user to start with a root post but allow followers, Circles, and/or contacts, to Branch off that post and relate to it in a different way. They could even add a way to unobtrusively solicit information from people by polling or asking questions. The interface for this type of thing could be organized and fluid, making it fun to play with, searchable, and easy to use. [This not only adds context to discussions/posts, but it also allows Google to use this data later on to better user’s experiences.]

A “Circle” doesn’t have ways to setup how circles are related, or how people in those circles are related. Possibly, include in Google+, what are the Circle’s interests and subjects to focus on. This could make Google+ more complex as a system, but would allow Google+ to surmise additional social graph data later on. The complexity could be abstracted away from the user, allowing the user to benefit from the complexity rather than hinder the usability.

Sparks is basically a feed of news, blog posts, and information for a static set of subjects allowing you to post links to it and make comments about it. It doesn’t, however, let you create links to your own interests [Digg] or subjects, relate your Circles to those interests, or poll or ask circles about the interests in order to “Spark” engaging conversations about them. To me, that is a better metaphor for “Spark” then static feeds of information. Google could even use this style of conversation to infer what is important to its users.

Where’s the API?! Where are the Applications? {Apps} Data Liberation is a light-up point for Google+ and other Google Services. This means allowing the user/consumer to export their data for use in other places. Where is the API to perform this operation? Twitter has a API which is a firehose of data, to anyone who is listening, that developers can use to integrate to their applications and systems without too much fo a performance hit on their system. Since google is all about “data liberation”, “free”, and “open source” it would be beneficial to do the same for Google+. Allow users to post to this “stream” where external systems and applications can make use out of it. Bringing users closers together. Even though Facebook does a terrible job around “Applications” it still adds to the experience of the “Social Network.” There is no need to mention “Farmville”, but it is proof that Applications, no matter how useless or nonproductive, can create a social graph not intended by the networks themselves.

Where is the Org or Group collaboration integration? Creating Events, Organization Pages, and Group Collaboration pages benefits a laundry list of consumers. It encapsulates another idea behind social networking called out-of-band collaboration. It allows individuals to move focus to an external entity and possibly bringing together more people. This goes back to inferring “in.terests” or “usefulness” that Google+ could do using these other pages. An example would be, if someone is interested in a convention that is about gadgets, and they also read tech blogs, the might want to follow Léo Laporte or Gina Trapani.

I can’t give away all my great ideas! This post may be long, but I have held back some of my best ideas in order to stay relevant. If you want more details or ideas, please feel free to contact me.

It’s all about simplifying our social graph and our conversations we have with it. A revolutionary Social Network would provide a way to sift and filter out the noise to bring what’s important to you, as a user, and give you an easy way to share your passions and interests with the people, and companies, that matter to you.

Until next time…

Browser Wars – Rich Internet Applications and Consumers Benefit – Internet Explorer 10.0 Preview 2

Level: Geek 2 {all readers with some techie facts}

One of the most profound social reactions in the world is the concept of “competition.”  Not only does it effect people, markets, and products, but also helps the world to evolve, especially in the world of technology and software.

Where there is competition, there is evolution. The need to supersede the competitor!

In the world of ‘The Internet’, and what technologists are calling Web 2.5, Web Browsers (The thing you use to surf the web) have been fighting it out to be the ‘next’ choice of consumers to run the next-generation web-based applications. Whether it is on their desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone, browsers are quickly becoming the target for development of new cross-device, cross platform, applications that will make it easier for competitors to follow the old “Build it once” paradigm.

Microsoft released Internet Explorer 9.0 in March 2011 to competitively place themselves in the market as a next-gen web browser. Some of the major features to IE9.0 were the fact that the rendering of the html page (producing content on the page) was hardware accelerated and the Javascript engine was as well. (For geeks: IE9 compiles JavaScipt down to native code and handled by the hardware) IE9 also added quite a bit of support for the new HTML5 standards. Microsoft was quite judicious and conservative with what components of the HTML5 standard they added support for in IE9. I suspect that this is because there is still quite a bit of battling for portions of the standard which are not yet complete. Some of the components of the standard are still in planning phases.

Internet Explorer 10.0 Preview 2.0 has become the next evolution for Microsoft’s browser. Not only do they support quite a bit more of the HTML5 standards, they are also offering increased performance on the existing support.

IE9 vs IE10pv2

IE9 vs IE10pv2

One standard I was hoping they would add was around “Workers”. Web Workers are a standard that are compared to the desktop application concept of threads. Web Workers was added to the IE10 Preview 2. (IE still doesn’t support ‘shared workers’ like Chrome 13 Beta)

Another huge jump was in the User Interaction portion of the HTML5 standard support. Drag and drop Attributes and Event support was added which equals out the support to Google Chrome’s 13 beta. This will help with making it easier for touch devices to move things around the screen. I am looking forward to playing with this feature on multiple browsers.

In the subject of parsing, HTML 5 tokenizers, tree building, MathML in text/html had support added. In html Elements, IE still does’nt support the global “hidden” attribute. I suspect it has to do with how the rendering engine handles hidden objects.

In web Forms there has been a substantial jump in compatibility: Several Input Types added like search, tel, url, email, checkbox, image (even over Chrome 13 beta), datalist (over Chrome 13 beta), Field Validation, Association of controls and forms, CSS Selectors.

There was actually a downgrade from Internet Explorer 9.0 (IE9) to IE10.0 Preview 2. It lost the Web Applications capability of using custom search providers. This could be a mistake! Hopefully the team will catch this before the major release.

In the same section, Web Apps, still have no support for Application Cache, scheme handlers or content handlers, unlike Chrome’s beta.

Security was added to Iframe around sandboxing iframes bringing it neck-in-neck with the Chrome beta.

File interaction was added around FileReader API’s. My guess is FileWriter APIs are close behind it in the final release of 10.0. Chrome 13 beta doesn’t have FileWriter support yet as well. It

Chrome13Beta-vs-IE10Pv2

Chrome13Beta vs IE10Pv2

seems theW3C HTML5 standard for this is not yet locked down.

With talk about Windows 8, Browser Applications on IOS and OSX, and Android adding more support for HTML5 standards on the OS, Internet Explorer 10.0 is shaping up to be a true competitor in the market.

The idea behind competitor browsers adding more support for HTML5 and performance increases should not be about which company is better, it is all about making it easier for consumers to build applications that work everywhere across all platforms. (Offline and Online) Competition is driving this mandate and the evolution of these products, but the consumers and developers are the ones that benefit.

Competition will continue to be the driving force behind the need to evolve, and the actual evolution will help benefit the world with how we are socially connected and productive.

Until next time…

Software: Gripe about Skype

Level: Geek 0 {all readers, little to no techie speak}

In today’s world of social networking and in-your-face type telecommunications, Skype™ has become a staple in many households. What also has become a staple is an everyday ‘Gripe about Skype.’ (I just had to reuse my snappy title somewhere.)  Trust me, I feel your pain. This entire post is going to be ‘me’ picking-a-bone with Skype™.

Skype™, oh my dear Skype™, why must you crash-on-thee?!

Skype Version 1.0
Skype Version 1.0

Let me begin by giving a very quick and condensed, historical, overview of the cool voice-over-ip application we call Skype™. Skype™ was developed as a side project years before its initial release in 2003. Developers Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn, also the creators of the peer-to-peer application, we all grew to know and love, Kazaa (remember those days of free movies and song at the click of a button?). They created their “Sky peer-to-peer” application in their spare time. If finally became “Skype™”, as we know it today, before their initial release in 2003. The unique thing about Skype is that is not a traditional Client (user’s

Skype Version 2.0
Skype Version 2.0

machine) to Server type application like AOL Instant Messenger, messenger clones, and some of the other VOIP services. It uses Peer-to-Peer methods of moving a lot of the processing and crunching of data to your, and others, machines. Why not, right?! Easy start-up costs for a business, because they don’t have to buy large processing server farms to deploy their app, plus it makes for a more direct, and more secure, communication style. The concept of “using the power of the masses, or the many” is not a new concept in the world of computing.Even so, the first versions of Skype™ were written in an old-school programming language called Pascal. Years later it moved to many of the other modern languages of our day. Version 2.0 was revolutionary for the application. Not only did it have a good app design, but also added Video calling!

My first question to the masses is, “What happened to Skype™?” It used to be a clean and stable program that you could trust for your free global communications!

For me, this question was first asked with versions 3.8 to 4.0 of Skype™. This is when it débuted brand new versions for Windows and Mac introducing new video compression algorithms and other enhancements.The user interface however was a step-up for me.The new user interface was clean, concise, to the point and without nasty ads and pop-ups.

Could Skype be a victim of a hostile takeover from a large software company that feels the need to change everything in order to give it more appeal? I think so! (e.g. eBay purchasing it in 2005, to a consortium of Index Ventures and Silver Lake Partners years later) I have seen it before! The old ‘Big business buys small business, after gaining a loyal and happy customer/user base, and tries to “bring it to the masses.”’  That’s business, right?! WRONG! What is wrong with keeping the “Original version of Skype” and creating “New Enhanced versions of Skype?” I betcha-bottom-dollar that people would use “The Original” more than the “Enhanced” version! People want simple and clean, where all the complexity is abstracted away from them. Google+, a new social networking system, like Facebook, constructed their interface design to be very clean and straight to the point with the center of navigation being search. People want fast, easy, and without clutter and enhancements.

This brings us to Version 5.5 now in Beta. Not only does it have problems connecting to the previous version of Skype™ but it also gets itself into an infinite loop of redialing your fellow patrons. You have to kill the process to get it to stop. It’s a lot of “fun” I will tell you that! Version 5.0, just released, has changed the user interface (UI) for the worse. People are lost and don’t know where to click. Ad’s, pop-ups, and dialog windows show-up where they didn’t before. It is an all-around thumbs down on the upgrade.

Over my many years of developing software and running businesses I have learned several things about products and how customers perceive your products. During that time, one of the software products I worked on had many years behind it already. When I started on it the team wanted to breathe new life into it, but didn’t want to lose any functionality or its robustness. The first step they took was not only the right one, but it also helped me to gain amazing respect for the architects of the engineering plan. They decided to walk through the entire code base and reorganize into base/required platform code and separate added features. The features became the second-hand citizens. It was the same code, just organized differently. This allowed them to test the base platform and ensure its stability, and it also allowed them to add features to it without causing issues with the base functionality. I am going to take a wild guess and say Skype™ didn’t do this with their new versions.

Someday software companies will learn the staples of product. A good stable base makes for easy innovation and simple, clean, and fast user interfaces makes for happy customers. Let’s hope they learn before it is too late.

Will Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype bring it back to its roots, or will it find itself shoved into their version of a horrible voip instant messenger Lync (Communicator) in order to “Bring it to the masses”? I bet you can guess!

Until next time!