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OpenCoSF – A New Kind of Event

By - October 01, 2012

I’m very excited to announce that registration is now open for OpenCoSF, a new kind of event that I’m helping to bring into the world.

Registration is free and open to anyone who’s interested in innovation in the Bay area. You can sign up here. Already about 1,000 people have expressed interest in coming, and I think we’ve got room for another 500 or so, if my math is correct.

So what is OpenCo? Well, it’s one the “seeds” that’s been germinating since I wrote the It’s Hard to Lay Fallow post back in the early summer. A few months before that, I took a mountain bike ride with one of my pals in the business, Magna Global managing partner Brian Monahan. Brian is on the board of sfBIG, a large Bay area marketing and Internet organization. At a recent meeting, the board was tossing around ideas for how to shine a brighter light on the unique culture of  innovation here in San Francisco and beyond. The idea of an event came up, and knowing my experience with the Web 2 Summit (now on hiatus)  and Federated’s Signal series, Brian asked my advice.

As we climbed up a particularly steep part of the Marin Headlands, Brian posited a new approach to conferences: an “open studio” of sorts, where conference attendees ventured out into the world to see entrepreneurs and leaders in their native environment. I found the idea compelling, if logistically terrifying. It’s one thing to ask a thousand or more folks to gather in one place. It’s quite another to ask them to spread out across an entire city.

The ever-expanding lineup of companies participating in OpenCoSF.

But there was something about Brian’s excitement, and the core of his idea, that really stuck with me. If you’ve read my  The Power of Being There post, I think you know where I’m going with this. For more than 15 years, I’ve been running conferences where hundreds of folks gather in a dark, windowless ballroom to hear from leaders of innovative companies. There’s a lot to be said for this model, but the idea of people actually visiting those companies, in their native environment, just felt right.

I began to develop the idea, producing an overview model and description. I figured we’d execute the first “Open Innovation Studios” (our early name) in the Spring, which gave us enough time to secure the partnerships necessary to get a new event launched. I figured it’d run for three days, with a headquarters in the center of the city, and a plenary conference to kick it off on day one.

Then I ran into the Mayor  of San Francisco at  a cocktail party at Ron Conway’s house. Ever the connector, Ron told the Mayor about our idea, and the Mayor told me he was planning to announce October as Innovation Month in San Francisco. Could we perhaps do our event then?

And off we went. In less than three months, an extraordinary coalition of the willing has come together to produce the first ever OpenCoSF. Our first iteration is a pilot of sorts – we’re limiting the participating companies to 75 or 80, and we’re running the open studios for just one day, Friday, October 12. We’ll be kicking things off with a short plenary and cocktail party the evening of the 11th (Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Github CEO Tom Preston-Werner, and Conway will be speaking, along with the Mayor).

Even though it’s a pilot, the response so far has been overwhelming. Companies hosting OpenCo sessions include leaders like Twitter, Salesforce, Zynga, Yammer, Adobe, Jawbone, and Google, as well as well known startups such as airbnb, Hipmunk, HotelTonight, Nextdoor, Cloudera, and scores more. And it’s not just tech or Internet – we’ve got chocolate startup TCHO, grilled cheese innovator The Melt, hospitality leader Kimpton, and UCSF, which is a leader in biomedicine. Silicon Valley Bank and The Interpublic Group – in particular its Universal McCann, IPG Mediabrands, and 215McCann agenies – have lent their time and treasure to the effort. AnthemWW has lent a big hand, as has sf:citi and of course sfBIG. Federated Media Publishing is providing a venue for day one, as well as a number of key staff resources. And more companies and sponsors are in the works in the coming days.

OpenCoSF is a prime example of the collaborative spirit that makes San Francisco great. It’s indicative of a desire to share our stories, celebrate our culture, and strengthen our community. If you sign up, you’ll notice that the site acts a lot like a music festival – you’ll see a “lineup” and in a few days we’ll be launching a “company picker” – where you’ll be able to schedule your company visits by timeslot and “stage” – our name for neighborhoods like the Mission, SOMA, or the Financial District. The lineup app is thanks to our partnership with DoStuff Media – the folks powering sites for  music festivals like Outside Lands and Lollapalooza. And OpenCoSF is certainly a festival, a celebration of the innovative ecosystem that makes a city like San Francisco special. I hope you’ll join us!

 

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The Facebook Ad Network Is Here

By - September 19, 2012

It’s been a pretty good year for my annual predictions, I must say. A few months ago I did my “how’ve I done so far this year” post, and found myself batting about .500. Yesterday Facebook pushed up my average with the announcement that it’s begun testing a mobile ad network. And this isn’t just an on-domain network (where you can buy ads across Facebook’s domain), but rather, it’s a true cross-domain network – just like AdMob on mobile, or Adsense on the web.

From Ad Age:

The company is working with an undisclosed number of ad exchanges to deliver the ads on iOS and Android devices for its advertisers, who can still target using Facebook’s array of options such as age, location, education and interests.

Expect Facebook to either build or buy one of these exchanges – just as Google did with the web (AdX via DoubleClick). Most observers are claiming that this step augurs a day when Facebook will launch a full-blown ad network across all platforms – video, web, and mobile. I have to agree – I wrote as much in those predictions in January. What I didn’t see was Facebook starting its ad network by launching an exchange (called FBX) and then moving into mobile before it did web.

But upon reflection, it all makes sense. FBX allows Facebook to gather data about web-based buyers’ purchasing habits. FBX is essentially a massive retargeting engine that connects web cookies to Facebook’s internal databases. That will come in quite handy when it launches an Adsense competitor. And launching its first true off-domain ad network in mobile first signals to Wall Street that the company has its priorities straight – its been dinged repeatedly for being too focused on the web. The key to this new mobile network is that Facebook is selling its data, not its inventory. If the company gets good at that, watch out.

These moves elevate Facebook into new arenas of competition with Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, all of whom employ  simliar product suites. And yes, I did include Amazon in that sentence – the company is far more engaged in the advertising business than you might have thought. More on that in another post.

 

 

 

Post Apple Rant, What Have We Learned? A Visit With A “Genius” Ain’t Enough

By - September 17, 2012

I think I’ve said it before, if you want to attract attention, write about Apple. A rant which had been boiling inside me for some months finally erupted into words last Thursday, and since that post, more than 60,000 people have come to this site, leaving more that 300 comments and sharing the story’s link nearly 3000 times across four or so social networks.

That may be normal for a site like the Huffington Post, but I think it’s a record for Searchblog. Methinks I touched a nerve.

What I found most interesting was the tone of the response – I had anticipated the standard Apple defenders to come out with blades sharpened, calling me a dumb old skool punter or worse. There was some of that, but the vast majority of folks who commented, either on Twitter, Facebook or here on the site, were instead supportive of my point of view, adding their own frustrating stories, as well as helpful suggestions.

Chief among them was pointing out the iOS feature that brings you back to the top of any list by touching the clock (who knew? Not me). That solved one of the larger irritations I have with the iPhone, but not the largest – which is this yellow “other” goo that has taken over my phone’s storage. For that, I had to head to my nearby Apple store – I made the appointment online.

Saturday I drove over to the store, which was, as always, buzzing with a kind of high-household-income testosterone (regardless of gender). I met my “Apple Genius” and explained my problems. I showed him my post, and explained that while I had many issues with Apple, all I wanted was the yellow goo to go away.

My Genius was a very nice fellow, clearly aware of the storage issue. This was not the first, or even the 100th, time he’d dealt with it. He explained that it was probably corrupted software in the phone’s OS, and that a clean restore would most likely fix the problem. I told him I’d tried that already, twice, but admitted that perhaps I had done something wrong.

Funny aside: As I was showing him my post, I explained that many commentators had scolded me for not knowing about how “touching the clock” took you back to the top of contacts and initiated a search. He was dumbstruck – he had the same problem as me, and didn’t know about the feature either. So at least I don’t feel as stupid as before.

Anyway, the Genius (I’m protecting his name and location) did an initial software scan and told me that yes, my phone had a software problem. What kind of problem, I asked? He said the scan didn’t say, just that he needed to “update the firmware.” That meant, essentially, wiping my phone back to factory settings, then restoring it from a backup. Fortunately I had brought my computer as well, so he did a backup, then proceeded to install the new firmware.

While we were waiting, I asked Mr. Genius if the “problem” was corruption in the software, or if it was a known bug that Apple had fixed in more recent firmware updates. I suspected it was a known bug, given how prevalent my yellow goo problem was (it’s all over the Apple boards). He said he wasn’t sure, but admitted it was likely a firmware bug that had been fixed later. It often had something to do with the upgrade to iOS 5 and forcing people to use the cloud, he admitted.

The phone was now ready for its backup, but when he attached it to my computer, the restore process was going to take well over an hour (I had a lot of photos, and he said that takes a lot of time to transfer.) I couldn’t sit at the store for an hour, so I told him I’d do it at home, if that was OK. He said of course, and I was on my way. At this point, the phone was clean as a whistle, but it also wasn’t “my” phone – it was back to its “pristine” state.

You can probably guess where this is going, or I’d not be wasting your time. I got home, chose the backup the Genius had made to my phone, and let it run while I did some chores around the house. When I got back I checked the iTunes storage to see if the goo was gone. Indeed it was, but so were my photos. And my apps. For whatever reason, my music was there. Nothing else.

That was odd. I called the Apple store and asked to speak to my Genius, but they aren’t really set up for that kind of follow up. After sitting on hold for ten minutes, another person came on, admitted my Genius had left for the day, apologized for my predicament, but had no solution for me other than to suggest I use an earlier version of the phone’s backup. Turns out there was one, from about a week ago. So I decided to backup from that version.

I’m about three hours of time into this by now, for those keeping count at home.

So, to review where I was: I had a iPhone with totally new, up to date firmware but without most of my original data, because the backup made at the Apple store was somehow incomplete. And I was now going to replace that backup with one made a week earlier.

Which I did. And this time the backup took a lot longer, which to me was a good sign: My photos must be transfering this time!

After about 45 minutes, the process was complete, and it was time to check the Goo-O-Meter.

Uh oh:

I had a tiny bit less goo, and I had my photos, but not my apps. I realized I could get those later by sync’ing apps in iTunes, so I punted on figuring that out (and there wasn’t room on the phone anyway). Regardless, I was on hour four, and this was NOT progress.

PhoneDisk To The Rescue

It was about this point that I decided that if I was going to solve this problem, I was going to have to do it myself. Earlier in the year I had purchased a utility called PhoneDisk, now known as iExplorer. It’s  a great piece of software that lets you mount your iPhone as if it were just another hard drive. It “roots” your phone – showing all the files that are in there, even if the opaque Apple iOS doesn’t (or won’t).

I figured it couldn’t hurt to use PhoneDisk to see if there were folders and files that looked….off.

And yep, I sure found something. Turns out I had more than 17 gigabytes of “recordings” – memos from Apple’s Voice Memo application that comes standard with every phone. Now, I’ve used that app about 30 times, and my phone showed about half that many recordings when I looked using the app itself (I’d deleted the others). But using PhoneDisk, I found more than 1200 recordings! And guess what – more than 1000 of them were duplicates, many duplicates of memos I’d deleted over the years!

I decide to delete all the duplicates using PhoneDisk. First I backed up the entire 17 gigs on a 4-terabyte drive I happen to have (handy, I’ll admit). Then I sync’d music with “Include Voice Memos” unchecked (it had been checked). I was hoping that might get rid of the dupes. No luck.

My next step was to delete some test files from the iPhone using PhoneDisk, just to see if it reduced my yellow goo factor. I identified one 42.6-megabyte file that was duplicated 97 times – I trashed 96 of them.

By the way, I’m into hour five of working on this problem, thanks Apple! But I’m sure this is what the company means when it markets itself as revolutionary and elegant and all that.

After the 96 files were moved to the trash and the trash emptied, the yellow goo did not immediately disperse, but I know enough about the Mac to know you need to restart everything to see if anything “took.” I disconnected the iPhone and reconnected it. Of course, it starts to sync (as it always does), and that sync was taking a Very Long Time.

It seemed to be hung on the “backing up” part of the sync. So I tried to kill the sync. I was too eager to see if I had cleared some of the goo. Well, when I hit the little “x” that allows you to stop a sync, I got the infamous Apple Spinning Ball of Death.

Time for my favorite app: Force quit.

I fired up iTunes again….and stopped it from synching the phone immediately.

And yes! Minor success – 5 gigabytes of yellow goo – the amount I deleted using PhoneDisk, is now gone!!! But I am not triumphant – because I sense that as soon as I sync and back up – a process which cannot be avoided, those duplicate files may return. I must be cautious. I have many miles to tread.

The next hour or so is spent deleting files from the iPhone and insuring commensurate reduction in my phone’s goo. Finally, I restart everything, connect the phone, let it sync (that took half and hour) and….SUCCESS!

Yes, six hours later, my phone is (mostly) yellow goo free, and I’ve identified the culprit, some kind of duplications bug in the Voice Memo app.

Will it come back? Who knows. Is my experience typical? I bet not. But let’s just be clear about one thing: This. Ain’t. Easy. 

And Apple’s Geniuses? Not so much.   

Every Great Business Is An Argument (from 2008)

By - September 15, 2012

Completely through happenstance, I came upon this post I wrote for American Express more than four years ago. I think it still stands up today. I never posted it on Searchblog, and I’d like my writing to be collected here. So call this a lightly edited blast from the archives….

Every Great Business Is An Argument

OK, so maybe that title is meant to provoke a response, but is that so wrong? This post is about arguments, after all. Or put another way: I’d like to argue that the best businesses are, in essence, arguments.

There are many definitions of the word “argument,” but the one I want to focus on is the one that comes up first when you type define:argument into Google: “A fact or assertion offered as evidence that something is true; (as in) ‘it was a strong argument that his hypothesis was true.’”

In my experience starting businesses, and in my study of other businesses that have succeeded wildly (like Apple, Google, or eBay), every great business is founded in a thesis, a statement of what should be true. It’s then the business’s job to go prove that thesis – in essence, the business becomes the argument that proves the thesis.

Wired, for example, was founded on the thesis that digital technologies were forever changing the face of human society – from culture to politics, business to pleasure. We then made a business out of proving that thesis. Every single issue of Wired, every page of HotWired, every book we published and every deal we did was an argument proving that thesis.

The Industry Standard was founded on the thesis that a new class of entrepreneurs and executives were leveraging the Internet to change the economy as we knew it. We then started a site, a magazine, a conference series, and 14 international editions as arguments in proof of that thesis. (OK, the argument failed after five years, but I do still believe the thesis!)

The Web 2.0 conference series also had a thesis: That the web post-crash (after 2001-2) was radically different than the web of the late 1990s, and that a new breed of company, leader, and philosophy had taken hold across the industry. The Web 2 Summit and its Expo businesses, again, were arguments proving that thesis.

And Federated Media was founded in a thesis as well: That the economics of content creation and consumption have shifted significantly in the past decade, creating a new class of conversational media in need of a new business model. FM is the argument in proof of that thesis.

Well that’s all well and fine, you may say, but those are all media companies. This thesis/argument stuff won’t scale to other kinds of businesses.

I disagree. Consider a dry cleaning business, for example. One of the most successful new businesses in my neighborhood is a small company called Alex’s Dry Cleaning Valet. This business has a strong thesis: That it’s possible to provide high-end dry cleaning services and also lead the industry in using renewable, green, and sustainable technologies. Put another way, Alex’s thesis is even more simple: Dry cleaning doesn’t have to suck. It doesn’t have to ruin the environment, and you should be able to talk to someone who knows who you are and will respond to whatever issues you have (a broken button, a rush delivery, a question about a bill).

Alex’s is an argument for the thesis that a dry cleaner can be both green and conversational (for more on what I mean by conversational business, see here and here). When I sent an email to their site asking about pricing, I got an answer from Alex himself, and we argued (literally, but in a very nice way) back and forth over whether what he charges was fair for value given. Alex clearly is passionate about his business, his value proposition, and his thesis. And that makes his business a great argument for a thesis I, as a customer, am happy to buy into.

So the question to all of you who run or are thinking of running your own business: What’s your thesis? What differentiates your business from all the others in your market? Once you get that thesis, the rest is pretty easy. Everyone loves a good argument, after all!

 

Am I An Outlier, Or Are Apple Products No Longer Easy To Use?

By - September 13, 2012

I’ve been a Mac guy for almost my entire adult life. I wrote my first college papers on a typewriter, but by the end of my freshman year – almost 30 years ago – I was on an IBM PC. Then, in 1984, I found the Mac, and I never looked back.

Till now.

I’m not saying I’m switching, but I sure am open to a better solution. Because the past year or so has been dominated by the kind of computing nightmares that used to be the defining experience of my Windows-PC-wielding friends and colleagues. And it’s not limited to the Mac – the iPhone is also a massive fail in what was once the exclusive province of Apple: Ease of use.

I’ll caveat this post with the fact that I may be something of an outlier – I have thousands of contacts in my Apple contact database, and my iCal app is burdened with having to integrate with a multi-platform universe at work. And perhaps the fact that I love to take photographs, and have amassed more than 10,000 digital images, means that iPhoto has become mostly useless to me for anything other than as a storage vault. And that, apparently, is all my fault.

But my wife isn’t an outlier. She has about 250 contacts. She tries to use iCal, but can’t make it work. Her email breaks early and often. And she’s spent the past two months in IT hell, trying to salvage her digital life from the clutches of Apple’s self-centered, walled-garden update called the Lion operating system, which wiped out nearly all her previous settings and useful applications. Watching her struggles, and trying to help (and realizing I couldn’t without bringing in expensive professionals) made me wonder – whatever happened to ease of use?

I am certain this post will elicit all manner of Apple fanboys who claim I’m a moron, that I’ve brought upon my own demise through stupid decisions.  Well, let’s review a few, and you can judge for yourself.

Honestly, where to start. How about with the iPhone itself? I have an iPhone 4, it’s about a year or so old. The contract is for two years, and I don’t feel like paying $400 to get a new phone. I figured this one must be good enough, right? Wrong.

The phone is pretty much useless now, because all of its storage is taken up. With what, you might ask? Well, it’s a mysterious yellow substance – found, in a masterstroke of intuitive design, in iTunes – called “other.” I was alerted to this issue when I couldn’t take a photo because my storage was full. Oh, and I was also told my storage was too full to download any more mail. And I’m an inbox zero kind of guy!

WTF is all this “other” shit, I wondered to myself. Well, that’s what Apple’s self-hosted forums are good for (I’ve been there a lot lately, for any number of issues, only a few of which I’ll detail in this post). So off to Google I headed – “what is the other in iphone storage” yielded this post, among a lot of others:

 

 OK, so…should I restore the device from backup? How do you even do that? And if that doesn’t work, then what? I have to “restore as new”?

Sounds dangerous, like I might lose all my settings and apps and such. There had to be a better fix. I spent a half hour or so reading various forums, blog posts, and the like about the problem, which seems quite prevalent. Many of the suggestions are summarized in this post,  and included deleting your browser cache (that was pretty easy, I did it, no luck), deleting your entire email account and recreating it (a pretty drastic thing to do, but funnily enough, I’ve done it about ten times in the past year due to problems with our connection to work mail, and since I’d done it recently, I figured that couldn’t be it), and my favorite:

Go to /var/mobile/Media/ApplicationArchives using SSH (requires jailbroken iPhone) or DiskAid and delete everything. This folder contains partially downloaded apps which never completed nor removed and were probably interrupted at some point in the middle of downloading.

Are you frickin’ kidding me? I have to jailbreak my phone to fix this problem?

Oh wait, that blog post suggested one last thing I could do: If the above steps fail, do a full system restore :(.

Again, very drastic. But I was getting impatient. I wanted my storage space back. I found another site, one that looked pretty official, that said this:

Unfortunately, scouring available information sources and speaking with Apple hasn’t led to any type of easy resolution.

If you’re experiencing this issue under any version of iTunes, you’ll need to restore your iPhone to reclaim the space occupied by Other. That is the only known solution at this time.

Well shit. I spent a few more fruitless hours trying to find another solution on the web. There wasn’t one that didn’t require pretty significant technical know-how (such as installing a utility, running it to reveal all files on the iPhone, then deleting each file one by one, even if you weren’t sure what the file did). The only option that was relatively straightforward and seemed to work, according to many forums, was to restore the phone.

Which I did. And I lost all my apps save the ones that come preinstalled on the iPhone in the first place. And guess what? It didn’t fix the problem. 

OK, I’m going to stop on this example. Because the point isn’t to try to fix the problem (I know I’m going to have to go to an Apple store, and get a “Genius” to deal with this. And I know this “Genius” is going to tell me that my phone is old, and that I need a new one with more storage, and by the way, I should really get an iCloud account, because if I had one then I wouldn’t have a problem at all. In other words, Apple has architechted the iPhone in such a way as to insure that I spend much more money with Apple, and am committed to their cloud solution long term with my data. But that’s another rant). Oh, and the fact that Apple doesn’t respond in its forums about this (or any) issue? Ridonkulous.

My point is simply this: This. Ain’t. Easy. 

Another example: iPhoto. May I just say, and I won’t be the first, that iPhoto is A Piece of Sh*t, in particular given how image-driven the company is in its own marketing. iPhoto is about as dumb as an application can be. Just launching the things often takes up my Mac’s entire CPU,  crushing performance on anything else I have open (and no, my Macbook Pro isn’t old, it’s one of the newer models). Photos are organized by date, and there’s no easy way to change that. Album creation is utterly non-intuitive (again, I’m sure this is all my fault, Mr. Fanboy), and the “Faces” feature, which seemingly would fix a lot of these issues, is just plain useless.

Now, you Apple fanboys will scream at me: Hey Battelle, you wuss, don’t you know about Some Expert Photo Editing and Organizing Photo App That You Can Buy For Hundreds of Dollars. Or Some Bitchin’ Utility Written By A 19-Year-Old That Will Never Be Supported By Apple. Or something. Well I do, because I’ve searched high and low for help with iPhoto. Again, there are no easy solutions. I could take a class, yep. Or spend a few days manually tagging my photos. But wasn’t the point of the Mac that you SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT?!!

Another example: Nearly all of Apple’s built in “productivity” applications are terrible – email, contacts, calendaring, for starters. All of them are not ready for prime time. iCal is laughable as a shared calendar across platforms and the web – perhaps my IT department is filled with punters, but in five years, we’ve never been able to make iCal work seamlessly across pure Mac networks, not to mention with other solutions like Outlook or Google Calendar. And when we call Apple for support, it’s as if Apple really doesn’t care. Alas, we can’t seem to find anything better, so we limp along…apologizing when things “fall off the calendar” or, worse, when appointments stay on my iPhone calendar long after they’ve been moved from my main iCal on the Mac.

And dont’ get me started on Apple’s “Address Book.” As I said before, I have thousands of contacts. Is that so uncommon? Apparently it is. After months of trying to get my contacts to sync properly across my Mac, my assistant’s Mac, and both of our iPhones, my IT department finally got someone at Apple to admit that, well, the Address Book just doesn’t really work very well once you have more than about 1000 contacts. Seriously. Just – sorry, we don’t have a solution for that. We have found a fix – we use Plaxo – but now we’re dependent on Apple supporting Plaxo, which I’m not certain is a long term bet. Oh, and every time Plaxo syncs with Apple’s contacts, about one in ten of the contacts are duplicated. Why? No one knows. Is there a fix? Nope.

(And what if you want to sync to – gasp – an Android phone?! Well only way to do that is through a total hack involving Gmail. Seriously.)

Let me repeat my refrain: This. Ain’t. Easy.

Without going into detail, my little rant about Calendar, iPhoto, Address Book, et al goes for iTunes as well. I even bought a piece of software to try to fix iTunes myriad issues (Rinse). I can’t figure out whether or not Rinse has fixed anything, to be honest, and so far, all it’s managed to do is marry the wrong album art to about 100 or so songs which previously didn’t have any imagery. Which is kind of funny, but a tad annoying. And just the fact that there’s a market for something like Rinse kind of makes my point.

Oh, and then there’s the vaunted Apple Super Magical User Interface. You know, the Insanely Great Revolutionary Change the World User Experience that everyone fawns over as if it were a fact.

Are you kidding me? If Apple’s UI is magical, then I’ve got a Unicorn to sell you. Let’s start with Mac Lion. There are so many Fails in this OS, it’s hard to know where to start. You need a four-hour class just to understand all the contortions Apple seems to be doing in its attempt to make its desktop interface work the way the iPhone does. You know, pinch and swipe and app stores and mission controls and magic corners and all that. I’ve spent at least an hour figuring out how to turn most of that shit off. It just doesn’t work.

It’s really funny to watch my wife deal with all this, given she’s not exactly one to dig deep into system settings (you know, the very consumer Apple initial designed for). When she got Lion, the way her mouse, her iChat (now “iMessage” or someshit), and of course all her applications worked changed in very dramatic ways. For instance, she could no longer IM me – all of a sudden, she was on “me.com” and her IMs came to my cell phone as texts. (In other words, Apple defaulted to its own iCloud services, and wiped out her AIM-based identity). I’m sure this is all her fault, naturally.

Oh, and every time she clicks her mouse to try to move a window around, a message about “Icons and Text” appears. WTF? Little irritations like this happen all over the place, piling one upon the other until it crescendos with a long, wailing lament – WHAT AM I USING HERE – WINDOWS?!

But we all know the future is mobile, right? And the iPhone and iPad are Perfect Expressions of Beauty, Ideal Combinations of Form and Function. Except they’re Not.

 

Have you ever done a search in your iPhone contacts? You need the fingers of a poorly fed six-year-old to activate that search function. No, really, I must waste four or five minutes a day trying to make that damn thing work.

Seriously, how can an adult finger ever touch that little search icon without either hitting the “A” or the “+”????

And then there the precious internationalization feature of the keyboard (see image at right). I must turn my texts and emails into Kanji ten times a day. And this is a feature??!

There are countless other examples of irritating UI features on the iPhone. Inconsistent navigation is a primary one, but …OK. I’m going to really stop now. Because I know, learning how to use the tools of computing is MY job, and I’m clearly falling down on it. I know there are ton of tips and tricks that would make my life easier, if only I took the time to learn them. If only I spent hours a week on the Mac tips websites and such. If only I wasn’t busy…writing rants like this one.

And I know that Andriod and Windows are hard to use too. And no, I’m certainly not going to install Linux.

My point is simply this: This stuff is too complicated. There has to be a better way. And while it used to be that Apple was the brand which uncomplicated computing, for me, anyway, that’s simply no longer true. Does anyone out there have similar experiences, or am I really an outlier?

Tweets Belong To The User….And Words Are Complicated

By - September 06, 2012

(image GigaOm) Like many of you, I’ve been fascinated by the ongoing drama around Twitter over the past few months (and I’ve commented on part of it here, if you missed it). But to me, one of the most interesting aspects of Twitter’s evolution has gone mostly unnoticed: its ongoing legal battle with a Manhattan court over the legal status of tweets posted by an Occupy Wall St. protestor.

In this case, the State of New York is arguing that a tweet, once uttered, becomes essentially a public statement, stripped of any protections. The judge in the case concurs: In this Wired coverage, for example, he is quoted as writing “If you post a tweet, just like if you scream it out the window, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Twitter disagrees, based on its own Terms of Service, which state “what’s yours is yours – you own your Content.”

As the NYT puts it:

Twitter informed the (Occupy protestor) that the judge had ruled his words no longer belonged to him: (he) had turned them over to Twitter, in other words, to be spread across the world.

(Twitter’s) legal team appealed on Monday of last week. Tweets belong to the user, the company argued.

I find this line of argument compelling. Twitter is arguing that its users do not “turn over” their words to Twitter, instead, they license their utterances to the service, but retain rights of ownership, those rights remain with the person who tweets. It’s a classic digital argument – sure, my words are out there on Twitter, but those are a licensed  copy of my words. The words – the ineffable words –  are still *mine.*  I still have rights to them! One of those rights may well be privacy (interesting given Twitter’s public nature, but arguable), but I can imagine this builds a case for other ownership rights as well, such as the right to repurpose those words in other contexts.

If that is indeed the case, I can imagine a time in the not too distant future when people may want to extract some or all their tweets, and perhaps license them to others as well. Or, they may want to use a meta-service (there’s that idea again) which allows them to mix and mash their tweets in various ways, and into any number of different containers. Imagine for a minute that one of those meta services gets Very Big, and challenges Twitter on its own turf. Should that occur, well, the arguments made in this Manhattan case may well come into very sharp focus. And it’s just those kind of services that are nervous about where Twitter is going.

Just noodling it out. I may be missing some key legal concept here, but this strikes me as a potentially important precedent. I plan to speak with folks at Twitter about all this soon, and hopefully, I’ll have some clarity. Stay tuned.

Bing Tries Harder, But For Me, It’s A Draw

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It’s not easy being number two. As a marketer, you have limited choices – you can pretend you’re not defined by the market leader, or, you can embrace your position and go directly after your nemesis.

For years, Bing executives have privately complained about how hard it is to “break the Google habit,” even as they refused to market directly against Google. They were Avis, always trying harder.

No more. Today Microsoft announced its “Bing It On” challenge, a direct descendant of the iconic Pepsi challenge more than 30 years ago (the fact that I still remember that marketing campaign, and feel good about it, is a testament to its power).

It’s always a risk to ask consumers to test products blind, side by side, but Bing is doing it: Right here at “Bingiton.com.”

I bit and took the challenge – how did it go?

My first query has been my baseline for more than ten years – my own name (“john battelle“). Yeah, it’s a vanity search, but all of us have very strong opinions about what comes up when we put our names into search.

The winner? It was close, but Bing won. Its results seemed fresher – the Google screen had stuff about me from eBay and the BusinessWeek exchange in the first page (I never use eBay, and haven’t been active on that BusinessWeek page for more than two years). The Bing side also had my LinkedIn profile, which I consider important, though it also had an old picture of me flipping off the camera from 1998 (that’s getting very old), and a picture of a former business partner who isn’t me at all.

My second search – the misspelled (on purpose) “bset hotels sydney” made me question how the results were being delivered to the test site. Given how much I know about Google’s SERPs, it was pretty easy for me to tell which side was Google (it’s the left – the giveaway is the list of hotels with integrated reviews). But the results didn’t look quite like I was used to at Google. Here’s a comparison:

The main reason? This test had stripped out Google’s Maps feature for some reason, which certainly penalized the page from a visual and utility standpoint. Doesn’t seem like a fair fight.

So I gave that one a draw and moved onto another search.

Next up I tried a search I know both engines have had a bit of trouble with. I often lose the URL of my son’s boy scout troop, and have to search around for it a bit – it used to be buried in a nested Web 1.0 service, but recently was updated with its own URL, which unfortunately has terrible SEO. My first query usually doesn’t work, but it leads me in the right direction. It’s been a year or so since I’ve tried this (my son is older now), so I thought this might be a fresh search with some history to it. The query is “troop 43 larkspur california“.

The winner was most certainly Google. It found the old website (which has been impossible to find in the past) and the new one built in the last two years.

My next query was very utilitarian. My dad had a scare last night and is staying overnight at the hospital. I need to call the main line to check how he’s doing. So I entered “marin general hospital phone.” I figure if you put the word “phone” in there, the search engine should understand I need the phone number.

The Bing results had the number in the snippet of the first result. Google had it broken out clearly, but as the fourth result. Again, I know on Google I always get a map. But there was no map in these results. Also, I know that Bing prides itself on breaking out phone numbers, but I didn’t see the familiar Bing phone breakout box. Oh well, I had to go with Bing, because the information I needed was surfaced in the first result.

So going into my last search, it was two for Bing, one draw, and one for Google.

 

My last test was “winter rentals stinson beach” – a search I’ve done recently – and with some frustration – as I am taking a place there to write over the winter. I know what good results look like here, given I’ve done a lot of poking around already. It was relatively easy for me to pick a winner. It was Google, which filtered out most of the single home entries (I don’t want to find one home, I want to find listings with lots of them) and it also highlighted services and a local realtor I happen to know has the best inventory in the area.

So for me, the test concluded as a draw – two wins for Bing, two for Google, and one disqualification. Not exactly the two-to-one ratio in favor of Bing that Microsoft claims is the average, but then again, not bad either.

Remember, this is an entirely non scientific and subjective “test.” And of course, this test by its nature must exclude any personalization, search history, or other important bells and whistles that search engines use to tailor results to ongoing clients.

In the end, Bing proved to me that it deserves to be considered equal to Google for a variety of use cases. I don’t know if that’s enough to break the Google habit, but it certainly will get folks talking. And that’s an important part of marketing, isn’t it?!

The Victorian Internet – The Technology That Started It All

By - September 01, 2012

I’m at least three books behind in my reviews, so I figured I’d bang out a fun one today: The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers by Tom Standage. This 1998 book is now a classic – written as the Web was exploding on the scene, it reminded us that this movie has run before, 150 years in the past, with the rise of the telegraph. He writes:

The rise and fall of the telegraph is a tale of scientific discovery, technological cunning, personal rivalry, and cutthroat competition. It is also a parable about how we react to new technologies: For some people, they tap a deep vein of optimism, while others find in them new ways to commit crime, initiate romance, or make a fast buck age- old human tendencies that are all too often blamed on the technologies themselves.

Standage chronicles the history of the telegraph’s many inventors (Morse was just the most famous “father” of the device), and the passions it stirred across the world. Nowhere, however, did the invention stir more excitement (or bad poetry) than in the United States, where it can be convincingly argued that the telegraph’s ability to conquer distance and time almost perfectly matched the young country’s need to marshall its vast geography and resources. Were it not for the telegraph, the United States may never have become a world power.

Expansion was fastest in the United States, where the only working line at the beginning of 1846 was Morse’s experimental line, which ran 40 miles between Washington and Baltimore. Two years later there were approximately 2,000 miles of wire, and by 1850 there were over 12,000 miles operated by twenty different companies. The telegraph industry even merited twelve pages to itself in the 1852 U.S. Census. “The telegraph system [in the United States] is carried to a greater extent than in any other part of the world,” wrote the superintendent of the Census, “and numerous lines are now in full operation for a net-work over the length and breadth of the land.” Eleven separate lines radiated out from New York, where it was not uncommon for some bankers to send and receive six or ten messages each day. Some companies were spending as much as $1,000 a year on telegraphy. By this stage there were over 23,000 miles of line in the United States, with another 10,000 under construction; in the six years between 1846 and 1852 the network had grown 600-fold.

Standage writes with the amused eye of a British citizen – he currently works for the Economist as digital editor. One can sense a bit of English envy as he tells the telegraph’s tale – just as with television, the telegraph had early roots in his native country, but found its full expression in the United States. Thomas Edison started his career as a “telegraph man,” Alexander Graham Bell was inspired by the invention, the Associated Press grew out of the telegraph’s impact on newspapers, “e-commerce” was invented across the device’s wires, and huge corporations were born from its industries – Cable & Wireless, for example, began as a company that sourced insulation for telegraph lines.

The Victorian Internet is a must read for anyone interested in the history of technology, and in the cycles of hype, boom, and bust that seem to only quicken with each new wave of innovation. Highly recommended.

Other works I’ve reviewed:

Year Zero: A Novel by Rob Reid (review)

Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel F. B. Morse by Kenneth Silverman (review)

Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0 by Larry Lessig (review)

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Vintage) by Jaron Lanier (review)

WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency by Micah Sifry (review)

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It by Larry Lessig (review)

Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (my review)

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil (my review)

The Corporation (film – my review).

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly (my review)

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle (my review)

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick (my review)

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy (my review)

The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain (my review)

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman (my review)

Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku (my review)

 

 

What Is Search Now? Disjoined.

By - August 31, 2012

(image shutterstock)

Today I answered a question in email for a reporter who works for Wired UK. He asked smart questions, as I would expect from a Wired writer. (Some day I’ll tell you all my personal story of Wired UK – I lived over there for the better part of a year back in 1997, trying to make that magazine work. I mostly failed – but it’s up and running strong now.)

In any case, one question in particular struck me. The writer is preparing a piece on the future of search. (I’ll link to it when it comes out). What big problems, he asked, still plague search?

That got me thinking. Here’s my answer:

The largest issue with search is that we learned about it when the web was young, when the universe was “complete” – the entire web was searchable! Now our digital lives are utterly fractured – in apps, in walled gardens like Facebook, across clunky interfaces like those in automobiles or Comcast cable boxes. Re-uniting our digital lives into one platform that is “searchable” is to me the largest problem we face today. 

It may be worth expanding on that sentiment. When it broke out in the mid 1990s, the web was society’s first at-scale digital artifact.  It spread in orders of ten, first thousands, then millions, then hundreds of millions of pages – and on it went, to the billions it now encompasses. Everybody wanted to “be” on the web – a creator class started making pages and companies and services, a consumer class started “surfing” this vast new digital object, and our collective conscience marvelled at what we had created together: millions of small pieces loosely joined. And the key and unappreciated point is this: those pieces were indeed joined.

It was that joining – through links, of course – that made search possible, that created what is unquestionably the most powerful and lasting new company of the past 20 years – Google.* But as I wrote in Why Hath Google Forsaken Us? A Meditation, Google’s core model – built on the open, linked world of the web – is under threat from the advance of the iPhone and the app, the Facebook and the Path, the automobile console, the Xbox, the cable box, and countless other “unlinked” digital artifacts.

Google knows this. Why else invest so much in Android, in Google+, in Motorola (it’s not just phones, it’s also cable boxes), in self-driving cars, for goodness sake? Google wants a foothold wherever digital information is created and shared, and man, are we creating a sh*t ton of it. Problem is, we’re not making it easy – or even possible – to link all this stuff together, should we care to.

Which takes me back to that core question the Wired reporter asked me: What’s the biggest problem plaguing search? In short, it’s that our digital world is no longer small pieces loosely joined. It’s also big chunks separate and apart. And that makes search – in its most broadest interpretation – damn near impossible.

Which leads to another question: What then, is search? Of course, the Wired reporter asked me that as well. My answer:

Search is now more than a web destination and a few words plugged into a box. Search is a mode, a method of interaction with the physical and virtual worlds. What is Siri but search? What are apps like Yelp or Foursquare, but structured search machines? Search has become embedded into everything, and has reached well beyond its web-based roots.

So we all search now, all the time, across all manner of artifacts, large and small. But our searches are not federated – we can’t search across these repositories, as we could across that wonderful, vast, loosely joined early world of the web. We’ve lost the connection.

Call me a fool, but I think the need for that connection will be so strong, that in time, we’ll sew all our digital artifacts back together again. At least, I certainly hope we will. Right now, it ain’t looking so likely – what with patent wars, wagon circling by big platforms, and the like. But I’m an optimist – and I hope you are as well.

* Sorry but Facebook isn’t there – yet. And Microsoft and Apple, well, they may make a play for that crown either 20 years ago or 20 years hence, but if you ask me for the most important company ever that launched as a native web business, the answer is indisputably Google.

 

 

 

Twitter Drops Other Shoe, Which You All Saw Coming, Right?

By - August 30, 2012

Way back in the spring of 2010, when Twitter was constantly under siege for “not having a business model,” I co-hosted “Chirp,” Twitter’s first (and I think only) developer conference. This was just two and half years ago, but it seems like a decade. But it was at that conference, in an interview with me, that then-COO (now CEO) Dick Costolo first laid out the vision for “the Interest Graph.” I wrote about this concept extensively (herehere, here), because I felt that understanding the interests of its users would be the core driver of Twitter’s long-term monetization strategy.

Fast forward to now. Twitter today announced its “promoted” suite of ad units may now be targeted by user interest, which to me is a long-expected move that should clarify to anyone confused by the company’s recent announcements (cue link to recent tempest). Twitter’s statements around its decision to sever ties with Instagram and Tumblr couldn’t be more clear:

We understand that there’s great value associated with Twitter’s follow graph data, and we can confirm that it is no longer available to (insert company here)…

In short, if you are a potential competitor, and have the resources, motivation, and potential to harvest the connections between Twitter users at scale, well, expect to get cut off. You’re a threat to Twitter’s revenue stream.

None of this should come as a surprise, if you’ve been paying attention. Back in 2010, the second autocomplete answer for the statement “I don’t get…” in Google was “I don’t get Twitter”:

Interestingly, today, the same search today shows Twitter has only managed to drop down to third, even though the company now sports 140 million active users:

And while one could argue that in 2010, it was consumers who didn’t “get” Twitter, perhaps the folks scratching their heads via Google now are developers, who of late have been concerned that building on top of Twitter’s APIs might be dangerous for their long-term livelihood.

Twitter’s announcement today clarifies things quite a bit. Twitter has already declared its distaste for any business that manages how people consume tweets. Today, the other shoe dropped: Don’t build your business leveraging Twitter if you plan to run interest-based advertising at scale. Of course, the entire traditional media business is driven by interest-based advertising, which means Twitter’s business development group has a lot of work ahead. Interesting times ahead, to be sure.