free html hit counter July 2010 - Page 2 of 2 - John Battelle's Search Blog

Recent Signals

By - July 11, 2010

For all 185K of you RSS readers out there, here are the past week or so of Signals:

Monday Signal: Finally, a Slow Weekend. Sort Of.

Friday Signal: Who Needs Basketball? We Have Signal.

Thursday Signal: Mogul Mania

Weds. Signal: More Noise, Same Signal

Tuesday Signal: A Fourth of News

Thanks for reading, all of you. I’m still stunned at the growth of my RSS feed, from 130K or so to 185K in just a few months. I don’t deserve it, given how sparse my postings have been.

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On Facebook, Google, and Our Evolving Social Mores Online

By - July 10, 2010


(image ) I just reviewed this presentation from Paul Adams, research lead for social at Google (embedded below). He works on Buzz and YouTube, and presumably, whatever is next from Google, including the rumored “Google Me.”

His presentation is good, and worthy of your time if you are interested in the impact of social media on culture and business. Note, however, that it’s clearly biased against Facebook, coming as it does from Google. It’s in Google’s interest to deconstruct Facebook as a service, finding faults along the way, which this presentation does in spades.

In essence, Adams points out that Facebook lacks what I’ve come to call instrumentation. On Facebook we cannot manage our social relationships with any of the nuance that we do in real life. We don’t have the instrumentation, neither the tools nor the mores (more on that in a bit).

On Facebook, Adams points out, we have one big group of “friends.” Clearly, that’s not true in our lives. We have groups of friends, some of them with strong ties, some weak, some temporary, and many not friends at all, but colleagues, or family members, or members of a club or hobby.

Adams suggests we, as architects of what I like to call the conversation economy, should design for how we really interact with people, and I completely agree. However, it’s not that simple (Adams makes this point in his talk, but I’m going to take it a bit further here).

Certainly Adams – and his employer Google – see a significant opportunity in creating a better social networking mousetrap. But as he points out, it’s not just about making a better Facebook (though I’ve heard that “Google Me” is, in essence, attempting to be just that.) It’s about a wholesale shift in how we experience the Internet – the same shift many folks have mislabeled* as “the semantic web” – a shift toward designing the web around people, rather than pages, content, or even search.

The problem is, while I agree with the idea of designing around people, the truth is that we haven’t quite figured out what this design looks like. It’s rather like attempting to design an industrialized city while living in 1200 AD. Not only has the technology not evolved (power grids, modern plumbing, automobiles, communications networks etc.), but equally importantly, the social mores have not developed as well.

As I often say in talks to agencies and brands (just did four of them last week), we are in the midst of a significant shift in our cultural history, one similar as our move, as a species, from a largely agrarian culture to one based on the modern city. That shift took roughly 1000 years to occur. And as it did, we renegotiated nearly every aspect of our social mores – the values that we hold as community standards. You need a new set of shared and respected rules to move from a village of 150 or so farmers, who knew each other very well, to a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, most of whom don’t know each other, but live packed together in multi-story apartment buildings.

And we certainly did develop a new set of mores. In the western world, this culminated is what many call “Victorian” society, with elaborate principles of etiquette and relationships. In the US anyway, we’re still deeply effected by Victorian culture.

As we move online, we’re once again making a great migration of social mores, and this time it’s one not entirely tethered to physicality, location, or regional constraints. And this shift is happening far more quickly than the last one. Adams does a good job of outlining some of the new interactions that occur online – temporary ties to people we’ll most likely never interact with again, but who might have commented on our online review, or liked our picture on Facebook, or answered our product registration question via IM, text, or phone call.

This is uncharted territory, and we’re very early in the instrumentation process. We’re not certain, in advance of a given interaction, what’s right and what’s wrong, but we seem to know it when we see it. Adams’ advice is to design for how humans interact with each other, and at some core level I agree. But I also think we’re not always certain how we might end up behaving in this new world. So I wouldn’t want it limited to the mores we currently evince. That would be like designing Victorian London with the mores of a farming village.

Formation of new cultures like cities, or online communities, require that a process be, in the phrase of Kevin Kelly, a bit out of control. Attempting to design the future is usually fruitless. Instead, as designers (and developers, architects, publishers, brands…), we must pay close attention to shifting behaviors, listen and participate deeply, and design as fast followers to where this culture leads us. Sometimes, as with the original Facebook, we end up creating something that strikes a deep nerve for connection. When that happens, we are catapulted into a position of leadership, but we shouldn’t assume that adoption equates with finality. It’s way too early for that, and and I think this really is Adams’ core thesis.

What remains to be seen is if a company like Google is capable of this kind of design, or whether it comes from somewhere entirely outside our current field of vision. My guess is a bit of both. I am quite certain, however, that Facebook is already paying attention to this instrumentation problem. I expect many of Adams’ critiques will be addressed, and quickly, in future revisions of the Facebook service.

It’s certainly an exciting time to be in this industry, and in this society. They’re increasingly one and the same thing.

The Real Life Social Network v2

View more documents from Paul Adams.
*(The mislabel, to my mind, is that the semantic web is understood to be designed around machine readability, not people).

Is Yahoo Dead? I Don't Think So. Who Else With This Scale Can Be Neutral?

By - July 07, 2010

I’m sure you’ve noticed, but there’s a major battle underway for the hearts and minds of what we, in this industry, broadly call “developers.” Often the term is used quite strictly, to mean actual coders who build actual software-driven applications, services, or websites. Other times the term is more loosely applied, meaning “companies that build stuff” or “partners of platform X or service Y.”

However you define them, every major player on the Internet – and that includes predominately mobile players – wants developers to create value on their platform. All the top players here in the US – Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft – are driven by the value created by their developer base. The same is (or will be) true for Nokia internationally, and HP with its Palm acquisition.

At the moment, it seems to me, the game is utterly open.

Now, those of you who are Apple evangelists may disagree with that statement, but then again, I pretty much expect that. For the rest of you, a few thoughts on what it means to be a “developer,” at this moment, and why I believe there’s an opening for one unexpected company – Yahoo – to potentially emerge as a winner here.

Yeah, I said Yahoo. goofy-yahoo-logo.gif

Why? Well, I can’t speak to whether or not the company has the right lineup of talent, either management or engineers. Nor can I claim to have any inside knowledge of its core strategy, other than that which I have been told by folks I’ve recently met with there. But after those meetings, I did come away with a sense that Yahoo has a chance to be something none of the other major companies on the web can be: Truly neutral. Coupled with a very large audience base and a brand folks generally want to trust, there’s most certainly a there there.

Stay with me for a bit (as I’m pretty much thinking out loud here, and I’m not entirely sure where this is going to go.)

Last week I met with Blake Irving, Yahoo’s new EVP and Chief Product Officer, as well as Cody Simms, Yahoo’s Senior Director of Product Management (he also is responsible for developer relations). We had a pretty wide ranging and wide open conversation about the company, including a very frank discussion about its loss of luster over the past few years.

But these guys are not dumb, and as Blake pointed out in his blog post explaining why he came out of retirement (he was at Microsoft for 15 years) to run product at Yahoo, the company has a very large base of engaged users and some serious infrastructure and services in its arsenal. The question is, how do you continue to engage those users with great services in a world where nearly everyone else is looking to steal them away?

Something Blake explained to me, which echoed a meeting I had a year ago with CEO Carol Bartz, made a light bulb go off in my head. Last year Bartz vented to me about Yahoo’s infrastructure problems – the company, she explained, was a compilation of fundamentally disconnected vertical silos, each with its own P&L, codebase, infrastructure, and culture. It was nearly impossible to roll out products that cut across, say, Mail, Homepage, Finance, IM, Search, and Flickr, because each instance required custom integration and coding. Yahoo was literally broken underneath, even as it looked consistent at the UI layer. Add in the issues of internationalization, and you went from nearly impossible to “not even worth considering.” That mean stagnation, and on more than one axis. For one, it means it’s very hard to find leverage between your internal resources, or to roll out new products that build on more than one stack. For another, it means it’s next to impossible to open your company’s resources up to third party developers (there’s that word) who might want to add value to the ecosystem you’ve created.

I noted Bartz’s exasperation but didn’t think that much of it. At that time, she had a lot bigger issues to deal with – the Microsoft deal, for one, investor rancor, for another, and a major talent drain, for a third. She ended up getting sick, and not participating in last year’s Web 2. (She’s back this year, however…)

Then I met with Blake and Cody, and as the discussion progressed, Blake in particular brought up infrastructure again and again. He was thrilled, he told me, with what Yahoo had done over the past year to integrate most of its core services on one massive Hadoop instance. For the first time, Yahoo could roll new products across a shared infrastructure. It’s a major milestone in the company’s history.

Now, I haven’t vetted whether Blake’s enthusiasm is more hope than reality, nor have I (or can I) compare Yahoo’s infrastructure to, say, that of Google or Microsoft. But a few points of fact: One, before he left, Blake ran Microsoft’s initial foray into cloud infrastructure – the Live project. He understands the importance of those platforms.

So here is Yahoo’s challenge: To be the company developers want to plug into. And how does Yahoo lure them? By delivering engaged audiences, a clear economic proposition, and a neutral point of view.

That neutrality is key. I’ll explore that concept (along with others) in the next post. It’s late, and I’ve got a lot of clients to see in the morning. Let me know what you think so far, and I’ll be back at it as soon as I can.