Monthly Archives: June 2011

Day Two: G+ Lets Everybody In

Yesterday, was pretty fun so make sure to read the original post: I’m in love with Google+.

Day 2

One of the first things you notice about Google Plus (as my friend Bill pointed out) is that it looks a lot like Facebook. It has the three column view with the news feed dominant in the center.

Of course, the liberties don’t stop there. Google also added in Chat Roulette with their Hangout feature. They stole the Aspects feature from Diaspora with Circles. And, they took a lot from Rockmelt, the social browser Facebook wants to buy, with chat integrated everywhere on Google.

Which brings them pretty close to the US Patent law for a new invention: a novel combination of things.

Let’s dig into some of those.

Founders Love

At 8pm yesterday the whole site went bonkers. The Development team was thanking everyone. Vic Gundotra, the team lead for the project, was jubilant and asking for feedback for new features.

Then they rushed out the invite feature and the site went from limited beta to a bumrush. The news feed was just bursting with comments and we did lose our early adopter “test the features” attitude and switched into “how does this work”, “check out my business portfolio”, and all that.

Yep, pretty much like a normal social network.

Of course, it was pretty cool that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin got on the site and played with us.

Names: G+, Google+, Google Plus

I think the hotness is G+

Hangouts

All the cool kids were using the hangout feature. Where you join a group video chat with about 20 other people.

It’s a really cool feature that is all the rage right now because top Google Developers, tech journalists, and other web celebrities are hosting them.

Android over iPhone

The android app is killing it. The coolest feature has to be the auto-upload of photos. Turn it on and any new photo will instantly be in the cloud, private of course. Then you can choose how/when/where to share.

The iPhone is just a web app that takes forever to load. It does work well once loaded but really not a lot of Apple love here.

Filter the Noise

Now that everyone is joining the fray it’s important for Google to add in a feature to streamline the content. There is just way too much going on.

Turns out they already have that feature with Circles, but it’s tricky because Facebook doesn’t work like this (although they wish they did).

See social networks allow us to have 100s of friends and the burgeoning content that goes with it. The current solution to this is to either auto select news (Facebook) or sort all your friends into groups (Google).

From the beginning Google has this built-in with Circles. In order to “friend” someone you have to add them to a Circle. Then when you want to share content or consume content you choose which circle to do it in.

I tried it and it works well. My friends circle is pretty small with high quality content. The acquaintance circle is much bigger with sporadic good content. It’s pretty easy to switch between them and filter your news.

Join the Google Empire

You may have heard that Larry Page tied every Google executive’s bonus to getting Google “social”. One way they made that happen is to update the look of every Google Site.

This means that in Gmail you have a black bar across the top and on the right it shows your G+ notifications. All the other sites are similarly updated so no matter where you go in the Google empire your social network is no more than a click away.

Facebook Legwork

All the early adopters and geeks love G+ and, now comes the rest of the crowd. Which presents an interesting experiment since Facebook already introduced social networking to 700 million people.

They all know how to friend, like, comment, upload photos, change their profile, etc.

Perhaps G+ will have a much easier time getting users?

One thing is for sure, Google has the users and the content.

Facebook really has no answer to Google News/Finance/Calendar/Docs/Music/Video/Reader and not to mention the millions of searchers. It will be interesting to see how Facebook reacts to this…

I’m in love with Google+

Yesterday I logged into Google+ and immediately became lost. I spent about five minutes playing around and then left.

Today I came back and dropped an hour and a half playing with it.

Here is what I found, and why I love it:

Built-in Profile

Ok, I’m a blogger and I want Google to send us hits. This means I created a Google Profile with links, pictures, and a biography. With that instantly linked to Google+, I am saved the trouble of having to re-create a new personal profile.

Creating a new account on every freaking website is the slavery of the web. The same info, the same profile pic, hopefully the same password, multiplied across 1,000 sites.

Friends via Email

It is very likely that I have emailed anyone I will want to friend in a social network. With my profile auto-linked, my email contacts are auto-linked too. They are not yet my Google+ friends, but they are a quick drag-n-drop away.

It’s been super easy to get going.

But, on a side note, the whole circles thing in Google+ is still weird. I have over 1,800 friends in Facebook (part business, part personal) and sorting them into groups is a daunting task. Moving them into the Google+ circles means sorting out many 100s of affiliate friends. The circles feature is as easy as it gets but still involves 100s of actions by the user.

This is definitely something I expect/pray a data engineering company like Google to fix.

Privacy

I think Google learned their lesson with Buzz. As Gina Trapani puts it:

Don’t mess with the Gmail inbox. When Buzz invaded my Gmail inbox with a flood of social-networky conversations, my first instinct was “Turn it off!”

First step complete (don’t mess with successful products). Second step, make privacy easy. I think they have done that with circles, and despite my complaining above, it works really well. Every friend you add has to be sorted into a circle, then when you share information you have to specify which circles it goes out to (with “all” being an option).

It’s kinda amazing in its simplicity, but maybe that’s all it takes when privacy is truly “built-in”.

I guess we should also say that circles is an obvious steal from Diaspora, although they kinda deserve that since they called it the annoying “aspects”.

Mobile

You really can’t launch a social network without having mobile on day one. Google seems to have done that with all the positive buzz around their mobile site. It’s not an app but Google does have the best web apps of anyone on the market.

I haven’t tried this feature yet but will soon. Early thoughts on it are welcome.

Sparks

Lastly, Google+ has this feature called sparks. It’s an obvious rip-off of Facebook’s likes and interests features, but with an interesting twist.

When you perform a search on one of your “sparks” (mine being “surfing”) up pops the latest news from Google News. If one were in Facebook the results would be populated with random people named surfing, groups about surfing, and web content they have stolen/imported into Facebook. All part of Facebook’s plan to re-create the web inside their network so we never leave the site.

I see this difference as potentially providing Google with a big advantage over Facebook.

Think about how often you use the suite of Google tools (news, docs, finance, mail, calendar) and how incredibly useful they are for productivity, work, and research. If Google can continue to incorporate these tools into Google+ then they can overcome Facebook’s biggest problem: the social network is a huge waste of time.

That would so +1 Facebook.

I'm in love with Google+

Yesterday I logged into Google+ and immediately became lost. I spent about five minutes playing around and then left.

Today I came back and dropped an hour and a half playing with it.

Here is what I found, and why I love it:

Built-in Profile

Ok, I’m a blogger and I want Google to send us hits. This means I created a Google Profile with links, pictures, and a biography. With that instantly linked to Google+, I am saved the trouble of having to re-create a new personal profile.

Creating a new account on every freaking website is the slavery of the web. The same info, the same profile pic, hopefully the same password, multiplied across 1,000 sites.

Friends via Email

It is very likely that I have emailed anyone I will want to friend in a social network. With my profile auto-linked, my email contacts are auto-linked too. They are not yet my Google+ friends, but they are a quick drag-n-drop away.

It’s been super easy to get going.

But, on a side note, the whole circles thing in Google+ is still weird. I have over 1,800 friends in Facebook (part business, part personal) and sorting them into groups is a daunting task. Moving them into the Google+ circles means sorting out many 100s of affiliate friends. The circles feature is as easy as it gets but still involves 100s of actions by the user.

This is definitely something I expect/pray a data engineering company like Google to fix.

Privacy

I think Google learned their lesson with Buzz. As Gina Trapani puts it:

Don’t mess with the Gmail inbox. When Buzz invaded my Gmail inbox with a flood of social-networky conversations, my first instinct was “Turn it off!”

First step complete (don’t mess with successful products). Second step, make privacy easy. I think they have done that with circles, and despite my complaining above, it works really well. Every friend you add has to be sorted into a circle, then when you share information you have to specify which circles it goes out to (with “all” being an option).

It’s kinda amazing in its simplicity, but maybe that’s all it takes when privacy is truly “built-in”.

I guess we should also say that circles is an obvious steal from Diaspora, although they kinda deserve that since they called it the annoying “aspects”.

Mobile

You really can’t launch a social network without having mobile on day one. Google seems to have done that with all the positive buzz around their mobile site. It’s not an app but Google does have the best web apps of anyone on the market.

I haven’t tried this feature yet but will soon. Early thoughts on it are welcome.

Sparks

Lastly, Google+ has this feature called sparks. It’s an obvious rip-off of Facebook’s likes and interests features, but with an interesting twist.

When you perform a search on one of your “sparks” (mine being “surfing”) up pops the latest news from Google News. If one were in Facebook the results would be populated with random people named surfing, groups about surfing, and web content they have stolen/imported into Facebook. All part of Facebook’s plan to re-create the web inside their network so we never leave the site.

I see this difference as potentially providing Google with a big advantage over Facebook.

Think about how often you use the suite of Google tools (news, docs, finance, mail, calendar) and how incredibly useful they are for productivity, work, and research. If Google can continue to incorporate these tools into Google+ then they can overcome Facebook’s biggest problem: the social network is a huge waste of time.

That would so +1 Facebook.

M is for Metro

I love this picture. Found it after searching for news on the LA Metro.

You might’ve heard that we are spending some time in Hollywood trying to live the ideal life. Which might upset our car free lifestyle and test our theories on urban hipsters.

The good news is that LA’s burgeoning bike scene and growing subway system has a blog, called The Source, about all things pub trans. They do a good job including twitter tuesdays, polls, and system news. It’s pretty cool.

That’s where I found this pic, big ups to Jaime Morales for sharing it.

Working Towards The Ideal Life

Back in 2007, Robotchampion and I had a meeting of the minds. We wanted to do what we were doing but outside a firewall. We want to work on cool projects, without being tied to a specific location. Anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

We wanted to minimize commuting, which recent research has shown causes a calvacade of maladies, from stress to obesity to insomnia to divorce (couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce), and maximize physical activity and enjoyment. Everything from being able to surf (hence the move to Southern California) to having sex (which doesn’t happen, not in the way I prefer, if you’re not physically with your partner or even worse, if you’re unhappy with yourself or with your partner).

We wanted to be able to manage our time to our personal preferences. Sometimes this means working on a proposal on a Friday night, because when you set the schedule, a Friday night is no different than a Tuesday night. And if you’re working on something you love, it can be more fun than going to a bar and drinking. Seriously.

We wanted to work on projects we really love, no matter where we were physically located. Richard Florida talks about this in The Rise of The Creative Class (almost 10 years old now!) – and the movement to being able to play where you work and vice versa. It’s amazing how much I’m able to do on my iPhone alone. Add in my laptop and a Mifi, and D.C. acts no differently than Huntington Beach, CA. The only difference is I can wake up and be surfing in 10 minutes in Huntington Beach as opposed to D.C., where the only surfing I do is on the internet.

We wanted to work with and be around other inspiring, creative people. Co-working spaces have greatly enabled this. I love Affinity Labs in D.C., and we’ll be checking out Coloft, a cool co-working space in Santa Monica for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

I wrote this post mainly for people who don’t really understand what we’re doing, who have only known working 9 to 5 hours, on desktops, in office spaces that are in big, grey buildings, and haven’t really enjoyed work. I wrote it to show it is possible to design the life you want.

I don’t want to “earn a living” – I want to have a life. And it doesn’t mean I don’t want to work, because ask any other start-up or small business owner what their hours are like and most likely they’ll tell you it’s 12+ hour days plus weekends. The big difference is when you love what you do and how you do it, you’re not constantly checking the time to clock out. Instead you’re thinking, It’s 5 o’clock already?

 

Molten salt and the Power Tower, the new solar power

I like to think of thermal solar power as the rock star of clean energy. The technology starts off with the coolest name, the Power Tower.

The Tower is surrounded by thousands of adoring mirrors all focusing their attention on it in the center. As the mirrors build up the heat in comes the molten salt gathering in all the energy (heating up to 1,000 °F).

Then the salt exits stage-left to the green room (thermal storage stank). In these tanks none of the glory and fame is dissipated since they barely lose any heat (98% efficiency rate).

At any moment the rock stars can be called out to overwhelm their fans by turning water into steam and creating energy (via steam turbines). This means that energy can be created at night and without wind, and without requiring the use of the toxic chemicals that solar cells require.

Yeah, it’s a pretty cool technology.

Credit: Torresol

The picture above is from Seville, Spain, the site of the first thermal solar installation. It will generate 20 MegaWatts and power 25,000 homes.

The technology offers an interesting twist on clean energy, using a blend of the old and new. It’s steam turbine is the same technology used in coal and nuclear power plants. Steam power is hundreds of years old going all the way back to the 18th century steamboats and railroads. The twist here is using solar energy as a heat source, i.e. solar powered.

In comparison to other clean energy technologies it definitely has a few advantages. As mentioned above it can run at nearly any time (close to 24 hours), but more importantly it doesn’t require the rare materials that solar cells need.

This is becoming more of problem than you would think.  As China dominates the market, owning nearly 85% of all the world’s supplies. Putting the rest of us in the awkward territory of tariffs and reliance on the Chinese solar industry.

Further, the creation of solar cells is a notoriously dirty process. Many are even comparing the pollution between coal burning and the creation and disposal of solar cells.

With all that in mind, salt and mirrors could be our savior. We will just have to wait and see if our rock stars are one hit wonders…

Amazon Prime TV to battle Netflix

Do you order a lot from Amazon?

Do you also watch streaming Netflix?

If so, then you are the unlikely target of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

On Wednesday, he posted a memo on Amazon’s homepage asking you to pay $79 to get unlimited two-day shipping and access to over 1,000 movies and TV shows. It’s a strange combination, I know.

But, maybe this is the ideal customer…

I do order a lot from Amazon and I love Netflix, so the offer was pretty tempting. After all it is only $8/month, matching what Netflix costs, without the S&H bonus, haha.

This subtle push by Amazon to enter the TV/Movie market could be considered a smart move. The cable industry is one of the largest in America with advertising revenue alone at $27 billion. If you add in subscriber revenue the grand total is $94 billion (source NCTA, Dec 2010).

That’s a heavy market, but right now Netflix is the “big dog” and they are following Apple’s iTunes playbook for industry domination:

Back in 2003, Steve Jobs opened up the iTunes store with a few music companies signed on and hoped for the best. Fast forward to today and the store has sold over 10 billion songs and brought in $1.4 billion in the last quarter (Q2 2011). It was a tricky path to success involving some cloak and dagger on Apple’s part. Offering the struggling music companies a new revenue source, while keeping the offerings limited enough to fend off any fears of lost CD sales.

Netflix is now in a similar position offering the studios a new revenue source in a time of need (falling DVD sales). Only putting online what they can and patiently adding more over the months. CEO, Reed Hastings, has even gone on record as saying that they are not competing for TV subscribers (the equivalent of CD sales for the cable industry).

Sounds awfully familiar…and everybody knows this is happening, but no one will talk about it.

Janko Roettgers (Twitter), my new favorite author, discusses this in his piece: Who are we kidding? Of course it’s Netflix vs. cable.

Ask Netflix about cord cutting…“It’s not happening, it’s not anything we are causing, cable and Netflix are complementary.”…Cable and Netflix are competing for the same eyeballs, the same money…

We are at the point of no return. Blink an eye and Netflix is on top pulling in billions. Perhaps, that is why Amazon wants in…I just wonder if this free shipping gimmick will work.

Amazon has been known to make major off-beat investments, but even this seems weird.

Still, I am very close to signing up, so maybe it is working…

Sensors, Feedback Loops & The Humanity of Surveillance

Speed Radar Sign

In Wired’s July 2011 issue, it talks about how feedback loops are providing an exciting opportunity for changing human behavior, presenting the case of dynamic feedback displays, or driver feedback signs, where a speed limit is posted along with a radar sensor that reads your approaching speed and displays it on a digital sign. The comprising technology is not new or revolutionary but the use of them to influence behavior is pretty inventive considering no police officers or cameras are around to issue tickets. And it appears to be working.

The key is the loop and components themselves:

  • First you need DATA – evidence and measurement of a behavior.
  • Next you add in RELEVANCE, or social context, that provides a proxy for meaning. In the case of driver feedback displays, posting the speed limit next to your actual driving speed. This is called informational design.
  • The next step is CONSEQUENCE. The information must be tied to some larger goal or purpose.
  • Finally, you have ACTION where the party can calibrate a behavior, make a choice and do something. That action is measured and fed back into the loop where it can run again.

What’s been fueling the feedback loop revolution is the cost, availability and use of sensors. They’re drastically coming down in price and an increasing in quality and utility. Ostensibly a world with ubiquitous sensors could dramatically improve human behavior, allowing people to set and achieve more definable goals, curb destructive behaviors, monitor performance and continuously improve the process. You can imagine modifying everything from eating and drinking behaviors to work patterns to energy consumption to dating.

Regardless, by outsourcing our decision-making process, we are moving towards an existence where, more and more, technology performs a seemingly “human” role. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it helps us save us from ourselves.

 

Sensors, Feedback Loops & The Humanity of Surveillance

Speed Radar Sign

In Wired’s July 2011 issue, it talks about how feedback loops are providing an exciting opportunity for changing human behavior, presenting the case of dynamic feedback displays, or driver feedback signs, where a speed limit is posted along with a radar sensor that reads your approaching speed and displays it on a digital sign. The comprising technology is not new or revolutionary but the use of them to influence behavior is pretty inventive considering no police officers or cameras are around to issue tickets. And it appears to be working.

The key is the loop and components themselves:

  • First you need DATA – evidence and measurement of a behavior.
  • Next you add in RELEVANCE, or social context, that provides a proxy for meaning. In the case of driver feedback displays, posting the speed limit next to your actual driving speed. This is called informational design.
  • The next step is CONSEQUENCE. The information must be tied to some larger goal or purpose.
  • Finally, you have ACTION where the party can calibrate a behavior, make a choice and do something. That action is measured and fed back into the loop where it can run again.

What’s been fueling the feedback loop revolution is the cost, availability and use of sensors. They’re drastically coming down in price and an increasing in quality and utility. Ostensibly a world with ubiquitous sensors could dramatically improve human behavior, allowing people to set and achieve more definable goals, curb destructive behaviors, monitor performance and continuously improve the process. You can imagine modifying everything from eating and drinking behaviors to work patterns to energy consumption to dating.

Regardless, by outsourcing our decision-making process, we are moving towards an existence where, more and more, technology performs a seemingly “human” role. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it helps us save us from ourselves.