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Or Maybe It's Really About (Google) TV…

By - August 11, 2010

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Yesterday I posted some thoughts on the Google-Verizon framework, offering what turns out to be a pretty widespread sensibility, at least in the punditocracy, that this whole thing feels off, not like Google, counter to the brand.

There had to be another reason Google would do this, something super important that forced its hand, something so crucial to its own perceived future that it would be willing to upset its core brand advocates.

But what? I wrote: “it gives me the sense that the two parties are colluding in some way, creating and/or obscuring potential loopholes which will allow side deals in other parts of their business.”

I then suggested this had to do with Android. And perhaps it does.

But a very well placed source just sent me a thoughtful note, and it immediately stuck a nerve. Perhaps this has not to do with Android as much as it does the future of television.

Google TV, according to those that see it, is very very powerful stuff, and a major weapon on Google’s war with Apple (not to mention Microsoft and others). It’s streaming, interactive HD with the web folded into it (and it’s based on Android). And to work, it will need a fast lane on the ol’ info superhighway. Screen shot 2010-08-11 at 8.52.45 AM.pngA really fast lane. And perhaps, preferential treatment to boot.

Might Google petition that Google TV is an “Additional Online Service” outside the protected net neutrality framework it’s developing with Verizon? Such a service sure would drive subscriptions for Verizon and customers and advertisers for Google.

Hmmm. I think I’ll ask.

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Google Has A History of Agonizing. Will This Be a Chapter, or A Conclusion?

By - August 09, 2010

The Wall St. Journal has a compelling story about Google executives, including Page and Brin, struggling with the vast amount of actionable data available to the company, and what to do about it, even before Facebook pretty much forced the Internet giant to play their hand. A must read.

If any of you recall Google’s agony over China, its entry and then its withdrawal, this will certainly sound familiar.

What Means This, To "Go Google"!?

By - July 21, 2010

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I thought it meant to search! Apparently, in this context, it means “to drop Microsoft Office and use our software!”

I almost feel like a relic pointing out the obvious, but when I got my latest paper-based Fortune magazine (yes, I do subscribe to a few still), I found the image at left on the back cover.

Long ago, while writing the book, I predicted that Google, long proud of the fact it never had to market its brand, would have to start marketing like a “normal” company. Why? Because while search “markets itself”, applications like Picasa won’t.

And so it has been, and so it continues. In January of this year, when my attention turns to predictions, I said that Google will have to decide to promise more as a brand than “search.” In May, I pointed out that this concept was progressing.

Not that big a deal, I suppose, given that the years have come and gone, and we’ve turned our attention to other Internet meteors like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. Except…I still find it significant that the king of the Web has purchased the back page of an analog magazine. If for no other reason that this entry in the database of intentions – this blog post – may be discovered by some anthropologist in centuries yet to come, as proof of some point yet unmade.

Or something.

Still and all, I am fascinated by what it means that Google, the verb that means “to search”, is being used by Google, the company, to mean something entirely different.

We Are Capable of Many States

By - July 16, 2010

In this overwraught essay, a novelist yearns for a time before addiction to technology slowly drained us of our humanity.

I don’t buy it.

We can both be connected and be fulfilled. We can stop, disconnect, read a book, make love without checking our devices for updates. And we can also be connected, while still being human. In fact, being human is being connected. We’ll figure out the instrumentation that works for us.

Can we misuse it? Yes. Will we? Yes. Do I believe that we’ll figure out the right balance, even as we redefine what it means to be human, thanks to our ability to connect in new ways? Of course.

If you want to go upstate and read a book, by all means go do it. But read this review – in the same issue of the NYT – of “Hamlet’s Blackberry” while you’re at it. We’ll evolve. Just, perhaps, not into who you want to be. Which is fine. Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Search, Foursquare, and Checking Into States of Mind

By - July 14, 2010

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 1.06.43 PM.pngI’ve written before about my relationship with Foursquare, and I’m sure I will again. I’ve tweeted my complaint that the “friend” mechanism is poorly instrumented (in various ways), and I should note that this is certainly not just a Foursquare problem (more on “Friendstrimentation” shortly).

But today I wanted to build on my earlier post, “My Location Is a Box of Cereal,” and Think Out Loud a bit about what I’d really like to do on Foursquare: I’d like to check into a state of mind.

What do I mean by that?

Well, imagine that instead of checking into a physical location, as Foursquare is mostly constrained today, I check into the state of mind I might call “In the market for a car.” Or perhaps I check into “playing a great game of poker with my friends.” Or maybe I check into “pretty bummed out about the death of my cat.”

I think you get the point. The check in is, as I’ve argued elsewhere, more than a declaration of where I am. It’s also a declaration of my state of mind, as well as my openness to a response from someone who might provide me with value.

In short, the checkin is a search, waiting for a response. And there’s no reason to constrain that search query to location.

What matters is that as users of this particular brand of search, we get good results. And the jury is well out on that concept, at least to date.

Here’s what I’d like to have happen when I check in to the state of mind I’ll call “In the market for a car.” This is a commercial checkin, of course, and I’d be well aware of that when I checked in. So what might I expect?

First, the ecosystem of businesses eager to sell me a car become aware of my status, and are prepared to respond in an instrumented fashion. I use the word “instrumented” very directly here – the last thing I want is a bunch of spam results – pointless, irrelevant come ons for brands or models in which I most likely have no interest. If that’s what I wanted, I’d just use a search engine. After all, most of search is instrumented, for the most part, against my query, and my query alone. On a service like Foursquare, I’d expect the response to be far more nuanced.

How? Well, I’ve given Foursquare permission to use my Facebook social graph, for one, and my Twitter interest graph, for another. So when I check into Foursquare, I’d expect a response that understands who I am, who I know, what my interests are, and how I compare, as a cohort, to others like me, who may have also in the past checked into a similar “state of mind.”

Add even more social and interest data to the mix, and you can see how this starts to get pretty interesting.

I’d expect a response that 1. knows who I am is personalized in a meaningful way, 2. surprises or delights me with an offer of value to my search, and 3. respects the fact that I might not be ready to act, at least not yet.

Organizing all this data and response isn’t an easy task. But then again, neither was building out the infrastructure we currently understand to be search. Once the checkin is loosed from the chains of pure location, the potential for connecting to customers in conversation at scale, and at an intimate level, is far too great for this use case to not exist.

A final thought on Foursquare, since I’m on about it. I really wish it was easier to create temporary or unique “venues” or states of mind. For example, last night about 125 folks came to the Web 2 dinner at a local SF restaurant. Many of them “checked into” the actual restaurant, but wouldn’t it have been a lot more fun if, when they came and fired up Foursquare, they saw a new “venue” that had been created, perhaps by the first person there, or perhaps by the organizer, called “The Web 2 Premiere Dinner”? And further, wouldn’t it be cool if the organizer, sponsor, or anyone else involved in the dinner could attach some kind of value to folks who might check in?

Now sure, I know you can create a new venue on the fly, and many do (I saw a pal who checked into “The Dog House” a while back, because he did something that upset his wife. I loved that). But the process to do so is awkward and difficult at best. Foursquare can and should encourage such behavior, and provide resources for us to intelligently curate the results.

Doing so would be a big step toward an ecosystem of search that was driven by the equivalent of a “social query” driven by a state of mind as much a location. And when the two connect, well, so much the better (read The Gap Scenario for more on that.)

OK, back to work, all.

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.

Is Apple's iWorld "The Web"?

By - June 27, 2010

I spent a fair portion of today at the O’Reilly Foo Camp, as eclectic an assortment of smart folks as you’re likely to find anywhere. I wrote perhaps the first ever piece on Foo back in late 2003, and I’ve been trying to make it every year since. It’s quite a confab.

Today I asked a number of the folks I ran into the same question: “Is Apple a part of the Web?” The answers I got were nearly unanimous – no, Apple’s iWorld is not part of the Web. Apple’s approach to the world – one of control, limited APIs, top-down control, the utter lack of…dirt…well, that’s not the web. One researcher working on a large scale Web problem dismissed Apple to me in this way: “Oh yeah, Steve’s managed to repackage pieces of the Web and resell them to people, good for him. But that’s not the real Web, so who cares?”

Does Apple represent the same kind of threat to the Web that the Web itself represented to the PC/Windows hegemony ten years ago?

I went to Foo with my son, a fellow who is not averse to running a Tor relay (even as he’s not entirely sure what the heck running that relay really means. Regardless, he met a Tor employee at Foo and was deeply impressed). As we drove home this afternoon, listening the Giants fall yet again to the Boston Red Sox, he asked me this question: “Why does Apple try to control everything?”

“Well,” I responded, “Apple believes that to create the best user experience, it needs to control that experience, at least in terms of what developers can create inside Apple’s environments.”

“That’s stupid,” my son responded.

“I’m not sure,” I said, even as I admitted that in my recent musings, I’ve been pretty partisan on the topic. “It’s true that Apple makes some incredible experiences, right?” After all, my son was pretty much addicted to his iPod Touch, and I knew he was at his wit’s end trying to install Windows 7 on his two year old Dell.

“Yeah, but it took them three years to let people change their background on the iPhone,” he countered. “That’s just lame.”

“Well, you jailbroke your iPod as soon as you could…”

“Yeah!”

“…and as much as I’d like to believe that the entire universe of computing device users were 14-year-old boys, the fact is, most folks don’t want to think about jailbreaking their devices. They just want them to do whatever it is they think they are supposed to do, and if they surprise and delight them in the process (as Apple devices do), so much the better.”

My son thought about that for a tic, then said. “It’s still lame.”

Then he fell asleep, and I listened to my Giants continue their pursuit of a losing cause.

But the question stayed with me – What is the essence of “the Web,” or “The Internet”? Does Apple’s approach to the world we’ve built together over these past 15 years qualify as part of the Web? I’ve argued in the past that it does not. But perhaps I’m being too dismissive. Perhaps, after 15 years of noise, and dirt, and half steps, perhaps we all really want the Web packaged and delivered to us in neat Apps, ready for consumption.

But what do we lose when that becomes our framework for consumption of “the Web”? And what do we gain?

I think this is an important question. Clearly Google falls on one side of this question, and Apple on another. It’s easy to claim that in the end, Apple will repeat its precious history, and end up with a small percentage of the market (Mac vs. Windows, all over again).

But then again….

What do you think? Is Apple’s AppWorld part of the Internet as you understand it? And who would you like to see onstage at Web 2 debating this question?

It's Official – Apple Kicking Google Out of iWorld

By - June 09, 2010

I’cover5_06.gifve written extensively about iAds here and here, and one question I raised has to do with Apple’s policies with regard to third party data and ad networks, in particular AdMob.

As All Things Digital notes today, Apple this week “clarified” its policy with regard to third party networks, and it’s hard to read it as anything other than a direct declaration of war with Google. In short, third party ad networks can run in AppWorld, but only if they are “independent”. Put another way, sorry AdMob, you’re not welcome here. (I interviewed AdMob CEO at the CM Summit Monday, and asked him about this. This was before the policy was clarified, but he seemed pretty certain Apple would do this.)

I think this is shortsighted and wrong. I also think it’s classic Apple. It’s a re run of the Us vs. The World mentality that forced the Mac into a corner back in the late 1980s. This time, Google plays the role of Microsoft, but it really doesn’t matter. Apple won’t let anyone play in their iWorld who might pose a competitive threat.

This is all we need now – a major platform war, with marketers and developers having to pick sides, cost of development, ad serving, analytics, and marketing services at least tripled (one process for Android, one for iPhone/Pad/Touch, one for Microsoft or Palm/HP or…. ). That’s not what the web is about. It’s disheartening.

AdMob’s response is here. From it: “This change threatens to decrease – or even eliminate – revenue that helps to support tens of thousands of developers. The terms hurt both large and small developers by severely limiting their choice of how best to make money. And because advertising funds a huge number of free and low cost apps, these terms are bad for consumers as well.

Let’s be clear. This change is not in the best interests of users or developers. In the history of technology and innovation, it’s clear that competition delivers the best outcome. Artificial barriers to competition hurt users and developers and, in the long run, stall technological progress.”

What do you think?

Short Thoughts, At D, On Apple Search

By - June 03, 2010

Thanks to Andy at Beet for asking. My post earlier here goes into far more detail. I do look rather querulous, do I not? It must have been the sun.

Steve Jobs at D: A Master…

By - June 01, 2010

…and I mean that. Watching Jobs work his way through nearly 90 minutes of interview and audience questions, I really felt, for the first time, a sense of how strongly the guy feels for his work and his products. Then again, I found myself angry, several times. Angry when he championed the press as crucial to democracy, and implied the iPad would save our country from “descending into a nation of bloggers” (my view: we started as a nation of bloggers – pamphleteers like Thomas Paine). Angry when he defended Apple’s data practices – to an investor in Flurry, no less – as protecting users’ privacy, when in fact it’s clearly about controlling data to Apple’s benefit to win advertisers, developers, and market share (you can certainly protect privacy AND share data. That’s the basis of the web, and, by the way, the basis of culture. But that’s another post). Angry when he claimed that Apple was the only company doing mobile ads that didn’t suck, when in fact they’ve been done the way iAds is doing it for nearly a year by third parties.

But I was also inspired. Inspired by a guy who decided to tear up the playbook of how computing works, and rethink it all so as to shift the interface from stylus or mouse to the human finger – and doubly inspired by a guy who reinvented the personal computer, then declared it essentially dead on stage tonight. Inspired by a guy who answers emails at 2 am and passionately defends his own way of doing things, and claims the market will decide, one purchase at a time. Inspired by the fact that the company I loved and defended back in the late 80s and 90s, which nearly died at the feet of Microsoft, eclipsed that giant in market cap last week, yet he genuinely seemed to believe that “market cap doesn’t matter.”

Read my Twitter stream for real time thoughts, but two things aren’t in there that are worth noting: one: Jobs said he was not going to do search, and two, Jobs said TV was too complicated to get into. Mark my words: He’ll be in both, big time, in the next few years. Why? Because he’s been on the record, in the past, saying he had no designs on tablet computing and phones. With Jobs, history has a way of repeating itself.