Category Archives: Media

Google is on the wrong side of the Real Name War

Google is requiring that G+ customers use their real names.

A vocal group has been fighting this requirement in a growing protest known as “Nymwars“.

Google’s requirement is based on their plan to use G+ as an identity service while the nymwarriors demand that real identities are sometimes used by oppressive regimes to stifle free speech and track political activists.

Google’s position violates the “Don’t be evil” code.  It also ignores an important market demand: profile management.  G+ should allow real people with real names to create public profiles of any nickname they like.  These nicknames would be persistently attached to the account, and bad behavior could remain accountable, but real people could remain anonymous to the public to avoid retribution or political oppression.

It’s usually a good idea to give users what they want, and in this case, Google could use this opportunity to become a new kind of identity provider: one that supports private links between private citizens and their public profiles.

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Visual overlay will be very cool

I’m not making any forecasts about when this is going to happen, but visual overlay will be very cool.

We will still see the world as it is, of course.  But we will be able to add layers.  Layers can give us information like the ratings of a restaurant we see or night vision or heat vision, or little flying arrows showing the direction and speed of the wind.  Layers can also give us controls like interacting with vending machines or unlocking your car, or saving a good bottle of wine.

It will be very cool.

Things have changed since I wrote about this in 2002, but I wasn’t completely wrong: The Etherface


Wikipedia anything you see.  Add people you meet to your contact list with context.  Users generate content.  API lets developers add controls.

The future is not here yet (Google)

I love this line from William Gibson:

The future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed

To me, it is a reminder that the things we imagine the future to be are already taking shape in the labs and garages around the world.  It’s also a good reminder that we’re creating our future – that it is up to us – and that our work is what gives the future its trajectory and shape.

Then there is Google.  Their incredible position reflects their inspired work, but the next steps seem so obvious and painfully lacking.  Their  future feels so clear, but the present is terribly clunky.

I got a voice mail using Google Voice.  A transcript and link was sent to my e-mail.  I click on the link and listen to the message.  So far, great.  Now I want to save the message, but there are no links.  I click the “Google Voice” logo, but no dice – not even the logo is linked.  The message mentioned a meeting, so I want to add the meeting to my calendar.  No link for that either, of course.  The page doesn’t even have the standard Google header bar.  Failure to integrate.  Failure to provide basic navigation.  Great functionality hidden in a tangle of stand-alone services that make it hard for users.

The internet giant has everything going for it – the important things at least – but regularly delivers a disappointing user experience.  They have sufficient users, capital, and talent to enter and dominate just about any market they want, but many projects fail because of the easy stuff.  Economies of scale in every corner of the business should give Google a powerful advantage as they enter and grow into new markets, but most times Google trips.

Their typical process appears from the outside to follow a pattern like:

  1. Somebody likes a “20% time” project
  2. Project enters “Google Labs”
  3. APIs launch in Google Code and Google Apps
  4. Failure to integrate among related services
  5. New services must survive alone or they are abandoned

This last piece is important.  Just because you build it doesn’t mean people will come.  Integration with existing services is probably the best way to introduce new services to existing users and maximize value to consumers.

Integration and navigation among Google services is terrible.  I hope this will not be mirrored in Chrome OS and Google TV – these are 2 new business lines that will depend critically on good user experiences.

The idea of Google Labs is great on it’s surface: give new services a place to be refined while  gaining traction and validation.  But don’t sacrifice the vision of leadership.  Performance as individual lab experiments ignores the value these services gain when they are integrated.  Google Wave should have been integrated with Docs and Gmail as early as possible;  instead it was not integrated and cancelled.  Also, dropping the real estate layer from Maps instead of integrating with real estate ad sales … so disappointing.

I hope that lack of integration is not an intentional strategy to avoid becoming evil monopolists.  I know the culture of resentment for what Microsoft did in the operating system and browser markets has left Google feeling careful not to unfairly exploit their position of power.  Actually, I respect them a lot for that.  But integrating among services is not evil; instead, it is exactly what you hope for when you offer an API.  Every Google service should have an incentive to integrate other Google services.  They should also be encouraged to integrate non-Google services.  If Buzz played friendlier with Twitter, I think it’s adoption would have been a couple orders of magnitude better, and instead of Twitter growing essentially alone, there could have been a diversity of integrated messaging services.  Maybe next time…

Management:

There is another problem when Google fails to integrate across services:  incentives.  Because newer projects do not add value to existing services, they are perceived as expensive speculation.   Existing business lines only want to subsidize new business lines if they will add value.  Services in Google Labs that work in isolation or require opt-in for integration add little value to existing services.  I attribute many of the failed launches to this problem.

The future is clear.  Google can become a beautifully integrated suite of services that satisfy all the major demands of modern information-age consumers, including business customers and developers.  It can avoid being evil by opening as many APIs as possible to promote competition – enabling other companies to integrate all the services consumers are growing to expect.

But it’s not there yet.  Time to get back on track.

Improving Google’s “20% time” policy

Google’s “20% time” program is not working as well as it should.  I love the idea of giving passionate engineers the opportunity to invent and build, but the policy needs tweaking.  Here is my recommendation:

  1. Engineers can submit projects to the Google management team.
  2. Managers can approve projects.
  3. Approved projects get resources, including engineering time, to achieve their vision.
  4. Google invests 20% of its engineers’ time to these projects.
  5. Managers’ approvals are tracked, plus bonuses for good records.

Why?  Lots of reasons.  Not every engineer should spend 20% of their time on side projects.   Some engineers should be spending 100% of their time on their side projects, others 0%.   Managers who demonstrate years of good decisions form the teams who lead Google into the future.

For Google to maximize the potential of its great teams and ideas, it needs to embrace a more flexible and competitive policy.  This plan turns Google managers into a sort of investment committee, the result will exploit competition and align incentives to optimize performance.

Net Neutrality: No Compromise

To begin talking about Net Neutrality, it helps to clarify what the internet is. It’s simply data sent via TCP/IP (the protocol for sending data through routers). Some people host web sites, others connect to their company e-mail, others do other things – it’s all the internet.

Understanding that the internet is just a connection using TCP/IP, then Net Neutrality is simple, too. Net Neutrality simply means that your ISP may not interfere with the internet. They may not censor your packets (the data that is sent via TCP/IP). This means they can’t censor your news, keep you off of Skype, restrict your sending and receiving, or otherwise interfere with your communications.

Any compromise on this is wrong for two reasons: 1) Your ISP should not have the right to interfere with your free speech, and 2) ISPs should not be able to tax the value creation of the media industry.

ISPs should not be able to interfere with consumer access to media companies, nor tax those companies for access to consumers. ISPs should not be able to interfere with our speech or block our access to the speech of others.

ISPs are in the business of providing internet access, but they don’t own the internet; any attempts to eliminate net neutrality would violate our consumer rights and hurt the economy.

Internet/Television Convergence: Program Tivo over AOL

This article says that AOL and Tivo are partnering to offer services that call for San Jose, Calif.-based TiVo to integrate AOL features like instant messaging (IM) and live chat into its new TiVo Series2 DVRs, and both companies are working to provide AOL members who are also TiVo subscribers the ability to schedule recordings on their TiVo from the AOL service.

TiVo already supported web controls: http://tivo.lightn.org/, but it seems that simplifying this software and integrating with AOL would lead to a higher rate of adoption.

This appears to me as a signal that AOl and TiVo are coordinating their efforts to attack Microsoft’s convergence strategy. Personally, I was hoping that AOL would work with Sony for this instead. Microsoft has pulled their UltimateTV business, and is focussing instead on XBox to get into your homes. AOL should recognize this change in strategy and team up with Sony’s Playstation division. Web services as we know them on the desktop and web services as they will be applied through home appliances such as the playstation will create a large amount of integration value – exactly the strategy that Microsoft used to take over your desktop. If Microsoft succeeds at home, too, then we are all doomed. 🙂

Online Rights: No "Deep Linking" – Texas

Wired News is reporting on a cease and desist letter sent to an independent news site by Belo, corporate parent of The Dallas Morning News, forbidding links to individual stories within the web site. They claim the author can only link to the web site’s homepage, and attempting to link to stories within the site violates their copyright.

If things move in this direction, the best characteristics of the web will be wasted.