February 09, 2010

Steve Crossan commented (on Facebook, of course) that he likes the new FB design.

I couldn't agree more. This is the first time I think Facebook have got it absolutely right. Of course, I guess this is the result of them buying in Friendfeed. But I'm intrigued ... was it the technology they needed from FF? Or the understanding of feed-based user-experience?

Whatever it was, if FF was a material contribution to the new FB, the synthesis was brilliantly executed (in less than six months!). And the result is a triumph. It's disturbingly compelling. Facebook have again shown themselves to be very clever at learning from others, at adapting to changing fashions, and taking their large base of existing users with them. (In this, they're reminiscent of Microsoft in their heyday.)

If I was running Twitter, at this point, I'd start to seriously worry. They aren't going to grow their network at Facebook's expense. Whereas the opposite is highly plausible. So what do they do now?

On first glance, Google's Buzz, reminds me of Microsoft in all the wrong ways. It looks like a "me too" clone of Twitter / Facefeed that exists for no other reason than that Google are frightened that there's a space they don't dominate. And now they want to muscle in on it.

A couple of things may change my mind :

1) Dion Hinchcliffe says Buzz has loftier goals. (Then again, doesn't Bing?)

2) At this point, the fact that it's hung off of Gmail is merely not dumb, as opposed to actively smart. Nevertheless, maybe this is the beginning of the wavifying of Gmail. In which case, that's an interesting evolution to watch. Gmail is a very nice upgrade of the standard email client. It could potentially turn into "the next Outlook" if Google do the right things with it. [1]

OTOH, lose the f***ing brand! "Buzz" is truly horrid; like a tired celebrity gossip page in one of those free newspapers you find on the tube. Except worse.[2]

But back to Dion's article. If the main claim of Buzz is that it brings better algorithms to the social web, then I think we need to be highly sceptical.

Firstly, the attraction of the social web, may not really be its data-processing efficacy. Yes, we all go round saying that it *is* useful. But it's also, necessarily phatic. Strip out that phatic, community forming flava, reduce it to factoid sharing, and your social network may become as charmless as dmoz.org. For many, FB will always be about little lost vampires turning up in your Mafia pizza emporium. And Twitter would never have found its way into my heart without Chinposin' Fridays.

Secondly, while Google are pretty smart at algorithms, returns diminish rapidly in hyperlocal social space. PageRank is not a genius algorithm : it's a clever heuristic based on some statistical characteristics of large datasets. By definition, neither the hyperlocal nor your meaningful social-network are anything like large enough for simple statistical algorithms to deduce much of any significance from. To add some kind of real value to that, we're talking "A.I. Complete"

As a comparison, think of it this way : Google is allegedly an algorithm company. Gmail has made a much better email experience. But Google have never been stupid enough to pretend that they can prioritize and schedule your email. Are they really going to add much value to a slurry of 140 character tweets?[3]

[1] With the right calendaring / feed-reading / tweeting / waving) Google could write a decent downloadable client (built on Chrome technology) as a direct replacement for Outlook, with their eyes shut. Why do this? Because it would signal that Gmail is ready to fight that battle.

[2] Buzz is not going to be Facefeed. It's not going to be a fun, populist social network. And Google already have too many brands; they don't need more. And they particularly don't need more failed attempts to be "groovy" that make them sound as desperate as Microsoft.

[3] Your tweet-stream is good because you've already chosen who's got a high-enough signal to noise ratio to pay attention to. And if you're wrong, you tolerate it 'cos it's your mistake. No way will a Google algorithm make that decision for you better than you could. And no way would you trust it to.

1 comment:

John Powers said...

I'm not very enthusiastic about Google Buzz. I feel okay sharing my email and choosing which email address to give out where, but I don't feel comfortable giving out other people's email addresses.

I often go back to your 2007 piece on widgets and social networks because you emphasize the importance of social convention. I can get in touch with my Facebook friends several different ways, but probably only have email addresses for 20% of my connections there.

Right now I don't open about 95% of my email at Gmail. Most of them are notifications of one sort or another. I don't go to Gmail to keep track of them, I simply watch a Gmail widget I have at Netvibes. What's interesting is the Buzz posts in my inbox don't show up in the widget.

I also follow my FB status updates and Twitter updates via a widget at Netvibes. I like Netvibes and don't know how many others use it. iGoogle can do the same, but they were slow to get widgets--they insist on calling them gadgets--for Facebook and Flickr. I notice that Buzz posts in my Gmail do show up in the Gmail widget on iGoogle.

I'm babbling on, but trying to take in your footnote about Google making a direct replacement for Outlook.

Google has some great products, but there are lots of great products that other companies make that people use. My sense of it is that some attention to iGoogle would bring some of their services together with services from other companies.

To a certain extent the attention to widgets online is related to Google's foray into mobile phones. They need to get a handle on assuring some quality in their widgets and phone apps. i-Google has too many widgets that don't work, so I don't use it.

I still think Google Wave is something valuable. I have a notifier installed somebody wrote. Why is that something Google didn't include as a matter of course. And why is there no Google Wave widget?

Whats really necessary is for Google to bring their products together and to make sure they work. The idea seems to be to make the Gmail inbox the Google portal so we'll see the ad at the top of the page. The way the Gmail inbox is set up now doesn't seem the best for a portal, something along the lines of an i-Google page would seem to me to work better.