Who’s got two thumbs, insufferable smugness and access to Google+? This guy.
Playing around, it feels like a lot of fun. It’s a clean, smooth design. Needs some work done, but that’s what testing is for. Google do tend to take a long time about this stuff, mind: Gmail was in beta for five years.
One thing, however, strikes me right away: Now is finally the time for Google to buy Twitter.
At about 10:15am Tuesday morning, I swear I noticed a mysterious black bar spanning the top of my Google search results. It vanished on my next, half-automatic click, and was lost and gone. Now, we know what that was. Google is on the social warpath again.
It’s called Google+, and I don’t want to dedicate excessive words to how it works: there are lots of goodsources for that. I want to look at the stuff going on behind the scenes.
Google+ is made up of Circles, Huddle, Sparks, Hangouts, Upload and Mobile. To describe things loosely:
Circles is probably the most immediately interesting part of G+. It’s a drag-and-drop group creation tool that ultimately forms, let’s be candid, a potential Facebook competitor (video). It’s obviously a way more streamlined – the Chrome to Facebook’s Firefox, if you like. It also addresses one of the key problems Facebook has, which is content overdose.
Once you start going over a certain number of friends, checking your status feed can be kind of a chore. To its credit, Facebook has tried to counter this by adding both manual and automatic filters. Trouble is, manual ones are unbelievably arduous to set, even to someone like me who doesn’t recoil at submenus. As for the automatic ones, well, they’re under fire for that as well.
Circles appears to make this a pretty painless experience at both ends.The other nice thing about Circles is that, because of its ability to tightly curate your own audiences, it has more flexibility than Facebook’s occasionally all-or-nothing approach (or manually adjusting settings for each new friend) – meaning that people might be a little more open. If I can easily assign someone to content-limited feeds – a new colleague, or promising date (or both, amirite) – without yet exposing my obsessive love of [whatever], then I may be more inclined to do that.
Huddle is basically focused, ad-hoc group chat (video). It’s not a new idea, but fulfils an essential role within social communications. You only need to look at the success of BlackBerry’s BBM service, which is a chief driver of adoption, to know that this functionality is in high demand. In fact, RIM are probably going to be pretty pissed off, as their struggle to survive will not be helped by cheap Android phones taking away one of its key USPs. More on Android in a bit…
Sparks is a content discovery engine. Essentially, it learns what you like and delivers it to you (video). The main purpose of this for Google is to get people using the service – something they have previously struggled with a lot in social. It’s telling that they have a second video to demonstrate how.
Hangouts (video!) is a multi-user chat room. It’s basically Huddle with webcams. The important difference with Hangouts is that people can flag themselves as passively, uh, hanging out, and ready to chat at any point. Like being logged in to a messaging service.
Upload and mobile I want to deal with together (video and video). In a nutshell, Google is providing a full, cloud-based communications suite straight out of the box. Use Huddle to get group together, take pictures, upload them to cloud, and have them distributed on Circles. It’s a compelling sell, but then, so were Wave and Buzz. And this is where I want to talk about what Google is doing differently.
It’s all about this guy. You’ve seen the Chromebook, right? Google is making a serious play for the OS market – one that’s never quite seemed to hang together. Until now. Google+ makes sense of the cloud-based, app-driven strategy: it’s about linking up with Android devices, and Google+ is the missing piece of the puzzle.
Google is looking to build a Chrome ecosystem just as Apple built their own iOS ecosystem. You had an iMac, so you get an iPod, and then it just makes sense to get an iPhone when the decision comes, because they’re designed to work together. Thing is, Chrome has a ridiculous rate of growth in mobile: today they announced they activate 500,000 Android devices every day. That’s half a million. Every day. That’s a whole lot of Google-friendly devices, and the company is really starting to plough resource into bolstering Honeycomb for tablets and next-gen mobiles.
On the more technical side of things, Google also today rolled out a Flash-to-HTML5 converter and new webfonts and design layout. Any one of these announcements would be pretty big news; together, they signpost a glaringly obvious power play. The emphasis on clean usability takes a lot of cues from Apple (indeed, Google have an ex-Apple designer anchoring the team), and it’s clear that Google are keen to solve the problem they’ve always had with social: getting people to actually use the damn thing.
It’s worth remembering here that Google’s Eric Schmidt just got back from Cannes, where he said that results from the company’s tearjerking Superbowl ad ‘shocked’ them. Seriously? Anyway, it’s become clear that Google is now slinging a lot of investment into marketing. I mean, check out how many videos they’ve made just for this release, big though it is. Indeed, check out their second, equally something-in-my-eye advert from earlier this year, along with all the other (more offbeat) stuff they’ve been producing.
But it’s not just straight marketing. Google are clearly taking pains to actively involve their users in the product. When Wave came out, it was amazing. It still is, and it’s still way ahead of its time. But it never made sense to actually use the product; it wasn’t integrated into existing operations in any meaningful way. Google could have started off by targeting businesses, who are crying out for solid, stable multi-editing software – but they didn’t. They kicked it around halfheartedly and never put the drive behind it, assuming people like me who found it awesome would naturally pick it up. Well, I’m a person like me and I haven’t used Wave more than twice ever. With Google+, I’m already seeing how it fits in with my life.
The Life Googlyic
This is the last point I want to make. Google is positioning Google as a lifestyle. Preposterous? Not when you feature vegan baking in one of your promotional videos. Not in red-meat America. Look at those videos again: biking, ‘epic bros’, nerding out, ‘gastronauts’. There’s a guy who uses ‘like’ as, like, punctuation? And the videos link to the Arcade Fire after they finish.
Google are plucking at the strings of a relatively new social demographic: the aspirant geek. Tech-savvy, young, beautiful and hip (not to mention ripe for parody), these people are super-connected, well educated, and not overly careful with money. They’re also into fitness, clean living, doing good and trying to have the quirkiest fun under the sun. Oh, and they hate what everyone else is doing, because they were doing it years ago and it’s so orthodox now. Like San Francisco above, they mix the metropolitan with the bucolic, and to hell with the dissonance. Anyway, dissonance is cool.
Google has made the effort to reject the current framework set by Facebook. In an early Google+ posting, Zee Kane of The Next Web asks,
Interesting that Google decided to replace @ with + when you want to mention someone. e.g +Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten . Anyone know why? (specific post here)
I think I do. To use @ (even though Twitter invented it), like, or even a thumbs-up symbol, would be a tacit submission to Facebook’s reality. And that’s not what Google wants to create. It wants its own ecosystem, with its own rules, populated by Android users on Android devices using Google apps to co-ordinate their lives. It wants to be cooler than Facebook. It wants to do social in the same way that Apple wants to do… well, anything. That is to say, better. And with this more holistic, integrated approach, Google+ is already making a lot more sense than Buzz or Wave ever did.
So look out, world. Google have the talent, the team, enough money to buy a small planet, and – for the first time – the direction.
So. Lulzsec have called it a day. Cue not an insignificant number of tech journos writing knowing articles about how they weren’t really so tough after all, and it was mostly easy stuff like botnet DDOS attacks and SQL injections, and they probably had inside help too and honestly, didn’t people just get suckered in by an usually media-savvy group of script kiddies?
“From what we’ve seen these lulzsec/gn0sis kids aren’t really that good at hacking. They troll the Internet and search for [SQL injection] vulnerabilities as well as Remote File Include/Local File Include bugs. Once found they try to download databases or pull down usernames and passwords. Their releases have nothing to do with their goals or their lulz. It’s purely based on whatever they find with their ‘Google hacking’ queries and then release it.”
Yeah, well, maybe, but that’s not the point. Things still got hacked. Right now, it’s possible to download what still amounts to quite a lot of sensitive personal data, stolen from organizations that really shouldn’t allow themselves to be compromised thus (NATO, anyone?). What’s more, some of this stuff wasn’t even encrypted – it just sat there as plain text in a database. I’m sure I don’t need to point out what a terrible idea storing passwords in that manner is.
If critics are right that the Lulzsec guys were relatively simplistic in their attacks, then we should actually be much more worried. Because after all, if a smash-and-grab DDOS with the LOIC or a similar hacking tool can result in the leak of hundreds of thousands of usernames and passwords (by the way, if you’re reading this and you ever played Battlefield Heroes, change your password), what are more subtle, serious attacks doing?
As it happens, there’s always a bigger fish. The earlier quote comes from a fairly convincing-looking posting on pastebin, Lulzsec’s outlet of choice, which appears to expose most of the crew. One can only imagine the sentences these guys face if actually caught, and in a way I hope they’re not. It would be too easy to pin everything on them, when really the lasting effects of their damage are minimal. It’s the lessons learned for online security that must endure.
At least to start with, expect people to call this ‘The Youtube Movie’ – but it’s a very different beast from The Social Network. YouTube, founded only 6 years ago in 2005 (seriously), hardly has the most gripping of startup stories. Its first ever video was a trip to the zoo. Indeed, aside from a brief squabble over its URL with hardware chain UTube, there is almost a disappointing lack of drama. Youtube was bought a year after inception by Google, who have steered it steady ever since.
Still, Youtube’s worth has never been that of an exciting corporate story. What Youtube has done that’s amazing is to become a whole new media platform. Cat videos aside, the platform is probably best known for its ability to form new music sensations: Imogen Heap, Justin Beiber and the lesser-known Pomplamoose all started out by making home music videos and uploading them. But it’s more than that: as the world gets more and more digital, and smartphones enable us all to record and produce our own video, Youtube offers an unparalleled window in to the lives of people from all over the world. I want to quote here a review from ReelSEO:
Life In A Day does exactly what it set out to do: document human existence around the globe.The film is touching, disturbing, uplifting, and more. It plays on the similarities and differences between our cultures–there are montages of the mundane (shaving or cooking) and the unique (the human tower from the film’s trailer or a man bicycling around the world). The end message? That we are all different, yet all the same. That we all have aspirations, regrets, responsibilities, and wishes.
In the troubled days of the 20th Century, Neville Chamberlain infamously said that we should not concern ourselves of troubles ‘… in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.’
Everyone is buzzing about Lytro, the startup that’s wowing people with its nifty refocusing tech. CNet provides the talk so I don’t have to:
The technique used is called light-field photography, and it’s been an active area of research for years in the optics realm. With it, lens and image sensor technology doesn’t focus on a particular subject, but instead gathers light information from different directions; processing after the fact means different aspects of the scene can be recreated.
Digital marketers, we need to talk about this. Participation is not always a good idea – indeed, unless it’s one of those magical concepts that simply works, most of the time it’s downright bad (seriously, Amoy?).
Participation is supposed to tick the ‘brand engagement’ box, one of the nebulous-at-best marketing metrics that’s very much in vogue in the digital era, and which can mean anything from clicking a static banner ad to playing a game on Facebook. It’s supposed to associate your brand with fun, interactivity, modernity. It’s supposed to encourage loyalty and advocacy.
But it almost always doesn’t.
See, the thing is that people are not very good at this stuff. That’s why there are super-competitive agencies stacked full of paid professionals to do it instead. You wouldn’t crowdsource advice for your tax returns.
The other thing is that there are always ingenious bastards ready to eviscerate even the most well-intentioned and most-controlled iterations. I’m talking the people who will always find ways to draw a giant penis – or, as EasyJet found out today, find even more inventive ways to cause grief.
In some ways, though, marketers who are guilty of oversharing just save the rest of us the trouble of knowing who is getting a bit too carried away with social.
In case you didn’t see it, forecasts were released this week that point towards mobile calls overtaking landline in the UK for the first time. With this as a background, it sure is interesting in the industry right now. Downright cuthroat, as a matter of fact. We’re on the verge of a whole new era, the latest development being an incredibly freaking exciting joint venture between Everything Everywhere, Vodafone and O2 joining forces (much to 3′s dismay) to try and win the NFC market for smartphones and not banks.
With all the jostling for the lead, it’s unsurprising that there are going to be some big losers. This week, news broke that seemed to stick that label firmly on Research In Motion.