Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More
The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.
He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).
Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.
These smells might not belong together after the environmental movement, but that's how they appeared in a 1948 textbook.
San Francisco Public Library
There is no end to the treasures that lurk in Rick and Megan Prelinger's Library, which has a physical home in San Francisco and a virtual one at archive.org. Just a minute ago Rick Prelinger tweeted a page from a 1948 school textbook that includes a list of pleasant things to smell in the city. They include:
A fine fashion accessory to the Powerbook, indeed!
The most popular phone at our conference was the Motorola V3 Razr.
Made of various metal alloys, it seems like a fine fashion accessory to the Powerbook.... Thinner than my pinkie when folded, it weighs under 100 grams. The backlit alloy buttons depress slightly for a pretty good ergonomic experience.
The iPhone is a sustaining technology relative to Nokia. In other words, Apple is leaping ahead on the sustaining curve [by building a better phone]. But the prediction of the theory would be that Apple won't succeed with the iPhone. They've launched an innovation that the existing players in the industry are heavily motivated to beat: It's not [truly] disruptive. History speaks pretty loudly on that, that the probability of success is going to be limited.Take a look at that chart again. Since the iPhone launched, Nokia's lost almost 90 percent of its value.
Let's not let 10 days of share price fluctuation blind us to Facebook's unprecedented accomplishments. Consider this a skeptic's guide to the bull case for the social network.
Facebook just had modern history's worst IPO and it's down again today by some percentage that will be quoted endlessly.Yet Facebook is still the world's largest social media site with more than 900 million users. And most importantly: Many of those people still visit the site each and every day, regardless of grumbling from cynics or short-term price fluctuations.
We've been hard on Facebook at times through the last year, particularly around issues of privacy. We will continue to report on them with the same rigor that we've maintained over the years. But as the company's stock has fallen since its IPO, so many people are piling on with glee that I've become skeptical of my own skepticism about the company. It's not so much that nearly a billion people can't be wrong, but more that I know that I can be. (Especially when media sentiment is running so strongly in one direction.)
So, consider this the skeptic's guide to the bull case for Facebook. Because, although you might not know it from the recent commentary, there is still a case for Facebook's success and it is strong.
A Natural Monopoly
Let's start with the most fundamental argument for Facebook: That its unique market position is profitable and will remain profitable.
"The case for Facebook is that it is a natural (tech) monopoly, and natural monopolies tend to be stable, profitable and rare, thus good investments," investor Paul Kedrosky wrote in an email to The Atlantic. "Further, such companies tend to be underestimated by the markets, with most people initially skeptical -- That can't ever get to the scale it needs! -- and then skeptical later -- That can't continue to grow! -- as the company matures. Confusing the trainwreck IPO with the company's fortunes is classic market myopia, getting caught up in short-term drama and forgetting what was interesting in the first place."
This is also a big one. Take a look at the most-recent Comscore numbers for how many minutes per month visitors to the most popular social media sites spend. Let's add up Facebook's competition: tumblr (89), Pinterest (89), Twitter.com only (21), LinkedIn (21), MySpace (8), Google Plus (3). That's 227 minutes a month. Facebook is pulling in 405 minutes. And it has the largest user base at almost 170 million monthly active users in the US.
Stop and think about that. Facebook is bigger than tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter.com, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Google Plus ... times two. Put all these numbers together and what you get is: One in every five page views on the Internet is a Facebook page. If the Internet is valuable, Facebook is valuable.
Let's put Facebook's 900 million global users in perspective. The largest international broadcast network is the BBC World Service. It reaches 188 million people a week. Facebook, by contrast, reaches so many more and in so many more places. It has become the most global and largest media channel the world has ever known.
Whatever hipster backlash to Facebook that exists in the United States, I didn't see any sign of it in Korea earlier this month. That country had a very strong entrenched social network in CyWorld. But every youngish person with a phone I could collar told me that Facebook has crushed CyWorld. Many still maintain accounts on both networks, but only really use Facebook.
Point being: Our media obsessions are not the world's media obsessions. Our backlashes are not the world's backlashes. And the fact is that 80 percent of the service's users are outside North America. Four out of every five Facebook users comes from somewhere else.
Facebook is poised for big user growth in just about every developing country except China. Facebook is already over 51 million users in India, for example, and Gartner predicts that India will overtake the US as Facebook's largest market within the next three years. Facebook's also very strong in Brazil and Indonesia; it has more than 40 million users in each country.
Even civil rights activists like the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Jillian York have grudgingly accepted that Facebook is useful for the people they are trying to help. (Though I can't help noting that Facebook can do a lot more to make itself a better platform for public action.)
Facebook's design was amazing when it launched. The competition was MySpace, which was obsessed with "personalization." MySpace's theory of design seemed to be that the more offensively cluttered the page was, the more its users would care about the service. Facebook launched with the cleanest, whitest interface imaginable, setting a new standard for How Things Should Look.
Fast forward some years and Facebook's design may not be what it once was. But watch out. Last year, they acquired the design firm Sofa. Then, of course, there was Instagram and its design team. And then Lightbox, makers of a nice Android photosharing app. The list goes on and on. Wilson Miner, who helped redesign Apple.com, just left Rdio for a new gig at Facebook. Lastly, they just acqui-hired the design usability firm Bolt | Peters.
Add it up and we have to agree with Flipboard designer Dider Hilhorst's declaration, "Facebook design is the team to beat." And notice how many of those hires had to do with A) mobile B) photos or C) both.
Here, I will defer to mediamaker (and former Twitter employee) Robin Sloan and his newly published piece on Facebook and photos:
[Photos are] completely central photos to Facebook's product, and by extension its whole business. The company's S1 filing reports that, in the last three months of 2011, users uploaded around 250 million photos per day. For context, around 480 million people used the service on any given day in that span. That's like... quite a ratio. A whole lot of people sign up for Facebook because they wanted to see a friend or family members's photos, and a whole lot of people return to the service to see new ones. (And I mean: does the core Facebook behavior of stalking really provide any satisfaction without photos? No, it does not.) Really, Facebook is the world's largest photo sharing site -- that also happens to be a social network and an identity system.
And it's not just *your* photos that matter on Facebook. It's all those photos other people have taken of you and your friends. That means you can't simply take your ball and go home; all the other memories captured by friends that you have easy access to through the system? You can't have them without everyone sitting on the same system.
Google has a ton of data about people's search behavior. They used it to improve the search engine, counting your clicks as votes, essentially. But for a long time, we didn't necessarily see the impact of that information accumulation. Then, in the past year, Google started to unleash a variety of services that show how much data they really have. Start typing any query and Google can tell you what you're most likely to be looking for. That saves you time and opens up new mental pathways for thinking about searches you're doing.
I think Facebook is in a similar position as Google was a couple of years ago. They've been using the data gathered by all those clicks and +1s and using it to make Facebook more addictive. Somehow, the things you're most likely to be interested in show in your news feed. That's the data, right?
But that's really only the beginning. They've amassed the data, which is the hard part. As The Believer's Max Fenton put it, "The pulled off the big heist of making a database of all the humans that isn't explicitly evil. It's a babel, and it's great." But the majority of the data that Facebook has isn't all as easy to parse as counting the +1s and comments to posts.
It's much more difficult to parse the real language that people use to communicate with their friends to determine what's going on in their lives and what that means they want to purchase. But people are flocking to the fields of natural language processing and sentiment analysis, among others, and Facebook will benefit from advances in those and related AI fields.
Perhaps the most highly publicized problem with Facebook's business came when General Motors pulled its advertising from the service, saying Facebook's ads didn't work. Today, AdAge revealed why that happened. GM wanted to take over pages as many companies do on media sites. Facebook wanted to keep the user experience it had built. GM walked and Facebook's users were protected from intrusive advertising. If you're an advertiser, maybe that gives you pause, but if you're a user: HEY, Zuck's looking out for you!
More broadly, we know when Facebook has erred with its users (remember Beacon?). But we don't know how many times they've avoided making mistakes that would have annoyed users. Can you imagine how many pitches they've gotten to increase revenue by placing more invasive ads? GM certainly wasn't the first and definitely won't be the last.
Facebook is not exactly known as a sanctuary of privacy. Their business, after all, is selling you ads based on what you say and do. Insofar as you life on Facebook, you live a perfectly observed and recorded life. So I was shocked when I took a look at a recent paper by two scholars in the North Carolina Law Review arguing that Facebook should actually be seen as a model for privacy. Hear this out, though. It's interesting.
University of North Carolina legal scholars Andrew Chin and Anne Klinefelter look at the problem of "reidentification" and how Facebook appears to have solved it. The basic problem is that we say that data has been anonymized if you remove someone's name, but in reality, that's not true. Many different studies have shown that by combining outside data with the output of a database, it's not that difficult to reidentify someone. For example:
Latanya Sweeney, then a graduate student at MIT, merged presumably anonymized Massachusetts state worker hospital records with voter registration records and was able to identify rather quickly the health records of then-Governor William Weld.30 Sweeney later published a broader study finding that 87% of the 1990 U.S. Census population could be indentified using only gender, zip code, and full date of birth, and others reproduced this work in the 2000 Census with 63% success in identifying individuals.
This is a big problem. Big enough that University of Colorado privacy and legal scholar Paul Ohm declared anonymization the core problem with our current world's "broken promises of privacy."
So, one can imagine within this context, that Facebook would be a big problem. They've got the world's biggest database of individuals, right? And they have a way for advertisers to access groups of those people. So one could imagine that Facebook's advertising system might be what Ohm calls "a database of ruin." Fascinatingly, this does not appear to be the case, though. The North Carolina researchers argue that Facebook has achieved "differential privacy." They provide the best possible data to advertisers but manage to protect users' identities as well.
They do so with some clever techniques that Chin and Klinefelter tried to reverse engineer. The researchers hypothesize that Facebook is cleverly changing the rounding on its advertising reach numbers as well as intentionally injecting noise into the system to disrupt people who may be trying to mine the database. They are executing both in conjunction with short-term caching, so that queriers can't fine-tune their searches in order to probe the database and reveal more data than Facebook allows. Their conclusion:
Facebook's apparent implementation of a commercially successful, differentially private database mechanism provides hope that in at least some contexts, the law can recognize best practices that go beyond traditional anonymization techniques to better protect privacy while maintaining utility of data.
That's right! Facebook and privacy and best practices all in the same sentence. And they've created this system within their monetization wing, no less.
The MySpace Red Herring
It has long been trendy to compare Facebook to MySpace and Friendster, two social networks that were once dominant. But let's get real here. There's dominant and there's DOMINANT. No social network has ever commanded a greater share of Internet users, their time, or their shared media. And it is not even close. MySpace got passed by Facebook when they had something like 120 million worldwide visitors a month. That makes Facebook 7.5 times larger than MySpace ever got. Friendster? They were in the single-digit millions.
The story is the same with engagement. MySpace peaked at something like 240 minutes a month. Facebook's over 400 minutes. Repeat this same analysis for media sharing or any other metric of your choosing. Facebook is not the same kettle of fish.
We're in such uncharted territory that the historical precedents don't really make sense to apply. Or if we are going to apply them, it certainly can't be that every dominant social network is inexorably going to collapse.
Media companies online do not control their distribution channels. They can't directly deliver you content and ads. You must come to us and increasingly that means that you come to us through a social network. We used to put guys in trucks and send salesmen to retail stores; now, the social networks control the channel. Just to be clear here: many sites depend on Facebook for a substantial percentage of their overall traffic.
So, if Facebook decides that it wants users to see more video applications and less social readers, BOOM, it happens. In late April, Facebook made some changes to Timeline and next thing you know, Viddy and Socialcam are taking off like crazy and the Washington Post and Guardian social reader apps tank. If you're in the media, that should scare you. If you're Facebook, it's just another sign that you're in the driver's seat.
Note, too, that Facebook now knows precisely which publications and applications are doing well. Think that gives them an advantage in the public relations and acquisitions games?
Let's return to where we started with Paul Kedrosky. Here he discusses monetization with refreshing simplicity:
This is a two-dial company: You can grow users, or you can grow revenue per user. (Or both, of course.) Growing users is doable, but getting harder given increased saturation in existing markets. Further, it's obvious Facebook is having some ad inventory issues with respect to putting enough quality ad content in front of people, especially on mobile, so that's causing some of the per-user revenue slow down we're seeing.
Is the current dollar per user figure at Facebook a likely ceiling, floor, or average? It's almost certainly a floor, given that Facebook hasn't done much to monetize its traffic, beyond slapping ads against it. That means the current $2-ish /user figure that gets bandied about almost certainly goes higher, and if it, say, doubles in four years, that's an extra 18% juice in the revenue model on top of whatever subscriber growth the company gets.
How do you grow revenues? My guess is it's mostly ads -- more in mobile, smarter everywhere else -- but it's also getting into transaction curation. Look at Pinterest, Svpply, etc., to get a sense of how community, or at least a sub-community, is becoming very active in helping one another make purchases. That is easily fee-linked, and then you have another dial to turn in growth per-user revenues.
To recap: A natural monopoly is still an invaluable advantage. The largest social media site is still the largest social media site. The site is still growing quickly across the globe. One in every five page views on the Internet is a Facebook page -- and vast portions of the traffic that flows to other sites around the Internet is channeled through Facebook. If you think the Internet is valuable, then you implicitly think Facebook is valuable, too.
Other systems may be possible -- social networking may decentralize or transform in an unforeseen way -- but let's not let 10 days of share price fluctuation blind us to Facebook's unprecedented accomplishments. Not least because an accurate representation of their market power is necessary to hold them to the right standards of privacy, responsibility, and fair dealing.
Department of Omissions: We did not go into Facebook's possible role as a payment method. There's much to be said on this topic as an alternative monetization strategy as investor Eghosa Omoigui pointed out to me on Twitter. Also note that it will be the subject of an upcoming story.
This is not the kind of Tweet you want to see from a feed that describes itself as "an automated Twitter feed provided by the Illini-Alert System" that is "not actively monitored by a human being." In essence, we have a robot reporting to us that some kind of hazardous material -- what, we don't know and can't discover -- has been released within a biotechnology research center. The Institute for Genomic Biology has a wide variety of research programs including stuff like "host-microbe systems."
For 52 minutes, that was all the information that was available. Then, two tweets came in fairly quick succession. The first said that the "spill" was "contained within the building." The second said that the building had been safely evacuated and "The fire department is on scene."
We still don't know what happened, though I'm pretty sure that this will turn out to be a routine situation. (Not 100 percent: I called the campus police and they said they had "no more information" than what went out on the alert system.) BUT, whoa, this really sounds like the opening line of an updated version of the post-apocalyptic novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War or a plot point in Colson Whitehead's Zone One. There's something chilling about, "Escape area if able to do so." Escape? From what? And why wouldn't I be able to? WHATS HAPPENING?!?!
Ok, sorry. Carry on. I'm sure zombies aren't closing in on Chicago or anywhere else.
UPDATE 9:28am: @IlliniAlert reports that everything is OK: "The hazardous materials release at the Institute of Genomic Biology has been mitigated and is no longer a threat. IGB will be open tomorrow."
Thanks to Geoff Manaugh, aka BLDGBLOG, for alerting me to this situation and ruining my night of sleep.
Beautiful and cool magazines purportedly from the movie Blade Runner are circling the Internet. But are they real?
The text is all new, clean and original. So too is the marker pen colouring and the pointy hand. I had to redraw the Dorgon lettering by hand. It is similar to a lot of fonts, but not the same.He also posted a pretty clear screen grab of the spot where you can see Dorgon.
I have spent hours (I'm not kidding) trawling through clip art libraries trying to find the original pictures.
If anyone can help me out with finding these images I shall be very grateful.
I am particularly keen to find this one because we have clear provenance for it being used on the set along with Droid and Kill.
Look, Google, we've got a plan to help you win on social. There's only one catch: You have to give up on the notion that animates Google Plus.
Out in the Mojave Desert, there's a place called California City that's fascinated me ever since Geoff Manaugh brought its story to the Internet's attention. The city is one of the largest in the state by land area, but its population sits at a mere 14,718. The facts together indicate the grandeur of the planned community's conception and its failure.
As pitched by the town's founder Nat Mendelson, California City would be the home of the American dream, a wonderland for sun and job seekers to go after Los Angeles' population burst across that city's eastern mountains. In 1957, land was purchased; roads were roughly paved; street signs were hammered into place. All Mendelson and his investors needed were the people ...
Who did not arrive as expected.
Those people did stop going to Los Angeles. But they didn't head to the enormous planned community taking shape in the Mojave. Instead, they headed to places like Phoenix. In 1955, the town had 350,000 people. By 1990, it had broken 2 million. California City languished, its grid still cut into the ground and viewable on Google Earth (see below). Instead of a megalopolis, California City became a set of half-built infrastructure. Growth went where people were already gathering naturally. They did not want to move out to the middle of nowhere, no matter how great the golf courses looked in the brochures.
Last year, Google, which had dabbled in official social-networking applications, released Google Plus. The site has all the things you've come to expect in a social network. There is a rich profile builder, a place for your photos, a nice videochat feature, a conversation feed, and, of course, "Circles," which allow users to sort the people they know into different buckets. Word at the time was that Google's full weight was behind this social push. The journalists who knew the company's insiders best declared that Facebook was CEO Larry Page's obsession.
I was bullish about Google Plus, even if it did feel like a Facebook clone. Google had built out a ton of infrastructure and was pushing Plus out through its major products. This had to be big!
But by most accounts and third-party research, the service is growing its number of users but not their engagement. People are "on" Google Plus, but they are not really ON Google Plus. The infrastructure is there. The street signs are there. People own plots of land. But there's nobody actually visiting town. To make it obvious: Google Plus is the California City to Facebook's Los Angeles.
Google, of course, vehemently disputes that the social network is anemic. They say not to trust the methodology of the people who measure public posts. They tell you that more private sharing occurs than public sharing. They say that the service is growing by every metric that matters to Google.
For example, here's what a Google spokesperson told me about one third-party report:
"By only tracking engagement on public posts, this study is flawed and not an accurate representation of all the sharing and activity taking place on Google+. As we've said before, more sharing occurs privately to circles and individuals than publicly on Google+. The beauty of Google+ is that it allows you to share privately - you don't have to publicly share your thoughts, photos or videos with the world."
But it is simply impossible to ignore that few people actually *use* Google Plus in any way that we've come to define usage of a social network. ComScore says people spent about 3 minutes a month at the site. Google contends that doesn't include mobile traffic or the dropdown menu that appears when you click the red "notification" icon in Gmail and other Google services. But neither of those places seems likely to change the overall pattern here. Deep engagement is not lurking in that dropdown. Let's say actual G+ usage is 10x what the numbers say, so 30 minutes. Facebook's at 405. Pinterest's at 89. Tumblr is at 89, too.
Another small piece of evidence: I added up all the links from plus.url.google.com to The Atlantic. In total, we received 16,000 visitor referrals from the site. That ranks it in the low 30s for us and that sum is orders of magnitudes smaller than we get from some of Google Plus' competitors. BuzzFeed assembled some similar evidence on +1s from around the web along with a devastating excoriation of the site experience.
"Logging into Google+ feels like logging into a seminar, or stumbling into the wrong conference room at an airport Marriott," John Herrman wrote. "It looks like a cubicle farm and smells like a hospital."
Ouch. So what gives? How could Google have invested so much money and credibility in building a service that, by all accounts except Google's own, doesn't work?
One hypothesis, advanced by TechCrunch's Josh Constine, is that we in the media completely misread Google Plus. The service was not an attempt to compete with Facebook. It was not a declaration of social war. No, it was a classic Google approach to social: develop a method to extract and organize information, but this time about the humans. So, they gave us something that looked like Facebook with familiar text boxes to fill in. They tricked us into inputting ourselves into their database with the promise of a great service. On this theory, it doesn't matter to Google if we use G+ because we already gave them our names, locations, interests, and webs of social connections.
And if they get some users clicking on +1 buttons for advertisements, that increases their engagement rate substantially for those users' friends.
"We are seeing 5 to 10 percent click-through-rate uplift on any ad that has a social annotation on our own Web sites," Vic Gundotra, Google's VP of engineering, told the New York Times. "We have been in this business for a long time, and there are very few things that give you a 5 to 10 percent increase on ad engagement."
And so what if the trade we made for our valuable demographic info resulted in us getting 36 minutes a year of entertainment from Google Plus? Jokes on us, I guess.
But I am not (quite) that cynical. Google did not go through all that effort just to build something that people never use. Perhaps they did not dream of the massive destination site. Perhaps we dreamed that up ourselves because we wanted a real competitor for Facebook. But every sign from inside the company is that Google cares deeply about social and they are willing to risk their best product (Search) in order to integrate themselves into your social life. They want to win in social.
And you know, I think they can, but only by ditching the very idea that animates Google Plus.
Essentially, Google built a social "spine" for their services without building a service that developed into a compelling social offering. There is no meat on the social bone because Google thought of building a social network not as a means for you to connect with friends but as a means for you to connect with Google.
In an earnings call with investors, CEO Larry Page laid out Google's approach to its social effort. "Google+ is about much more than the individual features themselves. It's also about building a meaningful relationship with users so that we can dramatically improve the services we offer," Page said. "Understanding who people are, what they care about, and the other people that matter to them is crucial if we are to give users what they need, when they need it."
Not that mission statements are the be all and end all, but notice how different Facebook's theory of the case is: "Facebook's mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."
Facebook is about you sharing with the world. Google Plus is about Google understanding you. See the difference? This is why people sometimes say that Google doesn't get social. People don't join Facebook so Facebook can understand them better! In fact, the better Facebook understands them, the more wary of the service they get.
Here's the charitable way of looking at things: Google Plus was the first step. Now that they've got the spine in place, they can use their knowledge of the social web to build cool integrations with their existing products. For example, I think the Circles integration with Gmail is awesome. Try it yourself: stick your family members into a Circle. Then, open up Gmail, and click on the Family circle. Voila: every email a family member has sent you is right there. This is awesome. And you can see how Google Plus could form a social dashboard for the email experience. I'd expect to see a lot more of that kind of thing across Google's services.
That's not the kind of thing that's going to get people to spend more time with Google's social offerings. You create the circle, move the people, and you're gone. It's a nice utility but it's not what has made any social network work so far. Let's assume Google wants people to post to and spend time on G+. How can they go to the next level? How can they make it easier for people to connect to and share with people they care about?
I think Google needs to stop looking across town at Facebook and look within itself. Google is riddled with invisible social networks surrounding a wide range of products. Even better, Google's homegrown social networks tend to be built around Google's core strength: organized (and organizing) information.
I've been drawing out a city building metaphor here, so let's keep it going. If Google Plus is California City (or Brasilia), Google needs to find areas where people are already congregating excitedly. They shouldn't build a new city, but revitalize the neighborhoods they already have.
Note that this community building task is different from providing better search service with social knowledge! This is about generating more social connections, not drawing on them to power a separate product. The former is nice, but it's not how you build an engaged community.
So, where are the neighborhoods where humans are already hanging out? Google has a variety of products that while not explicitly "social networks" could easily be thought of as places that help people "share," a la Facebook's mantra. Just think about them all: Reader. Picasa. Scholar. Earth. Books. Blogger. Hell, even Zagat.
It's these already bustling communities that should form the core of Google's next-level social offering. Take Scholar, which allows users to access research papers. A smallish group numbering in the millions visit the site to find research papers because it works better than academic search engines. It's pretty clear that Google's corporate honchos think the site is kind of a drag and they have no revenue model for it. Little has been done to update the service, even simple things like allowing people to sort by the number of citations.
But think about Scholar as a latent social network. Each paper contains its own social network that Google already crawls. Every bibliography is filled with other social networks. And people searching Google Scholar are likely to be as interested in connecting with the researchers who created those papers as they are with the papers themselves. Why isn't Google making it easy to connect the searchers with the searched? And sure, build a whole other set of social tools on top of that, which make it easy to share with networks of researchers. You want every college kid in America to start engaging deeply with your social network? Make it easy for them to get their papers written.
Or take Google Books, which has been languishing thanks to a similar level of inattention. Every book is also a latent social community. Why can't I lay down markers on my favorite books so that when someone stumbles on some old and forgotten energy book, they see my face there and can connect with me as someone who cares about this obscure thing that they care about? Boom: Instant, fairly strong tie social connection.
I'm just spitballing here. There are so many other things that Google could do with its existing products by working with the communities who already engage around them.
Instead, Google has tended to ignore or piss off its passionate social fans. (That's not to mention the many small, revenueless products -- Wave, Buzz, Knol, etc -- that had their own small but dedicated communities.) So, Google squashed Reader's biggest fans when they decided to integrate that service into Google Plus. The nuts and bolts of the change ruined Reader as a social network for sophisticated sharers of information. Were tons of people using it? No, but they loved it with the kind of passion that few have for Google Plus. Facebook would have tested to see if the changes hurt how often people used the site; I'm not so sure that Google did.
I can see why this is not the most obvious strategy for a company of Google's size: "Build social tools specific to our dozens of products? Bah! Why don't we just come up with a single set and push them out?"
It doesn't seem like Google groks how to create the smaller, self-organized networks of people who become the main driving force behind the larger thing. How many thousands of Twitter users power the whole service? How many thousands of Reddit users drive the whole news system? It I'm sure Google's executives understand the 90-9-1 rule intellectually, which says that 1 percent of users tend to contribute the most to social networks. But they don't get how to identify those key users.
Most companies have to create those kinds of users, but Google just has them sitting around in droves. It's those people rooting around in Scholar and Books and Earth. It's those people uploading ridiculous amounts of photos to Picasa. It's those people who built large networks of Google Reader friends. They are the ones who make a social network awesome and therefore worth visiting.
So, yes, use Google Plus as the social spine. Satisfy the corporate imperative to "understand" me and my web of connections. But now Google should concentrate on fostering the nascent but largely invisible communities it already has. Build them the tools they what they want to help them share. Don't mess up the networks they put in place. Watch what they're doing and double down on helping other people find it.
Does that sound harder than just building one set of social tools that span the Google universe and waiting for the people to show up? Yes, yes it does. But it's an illusion that it's easy to build any social network. Discovering a hive of people spending time together online is an amazing and precious thing. You can't just put a street sign at a road in the middle of nowhere and expect a party to erupt.
So, Google, look inside your already sprawling Google City. Find your explicit and implicit social power users, then empower them to build your social network.
A rousing success for the world's smallest artificial heart.
Italian doctors successfully implanted the world's smallest artificial heart into a 16-month-old boy, keeping him alive for 13 days with a titanium pump until a heart transplant donor was found.
At 0.4 ounces, the astoundingly small piece of equipment weighed about 80 times less than a standard artificial heart for an adult human, Reuters reported. It can pump a little over 3 pints of blood a minute.
The little boy had a condition known as dilated myocardiopathy and spent almost his entire first year of life at Rome's Bambino Gesu hospital, where the artificial heart was also implanted.
The device was invented by Robert Jarvik, esteemed creator of the first permanent total artifical heart, but had only been tested in animals.
It is no accident that we surfed channels before we surfed the web.
No longer can the viewer be conceptualized solely as passive recipient of the messages of advertisers. Rather, she or he now has the means to construct an individual media mix that may, or increasingly may not, contain advertising. In essence, the [remote control] allows the viewer to control some of the programming functions previously reserved for television and advertising executives.Any of this sound familiar? The remote control was one of the first devices that users could use to craft their own experience of the medium of television. While we think of channel surfers as mindless at times, they were, at least, making active and frequent choices about what programming to watch. Within the constraints of the available content, they were programming their televisions, not solely being programmed.
If 10 cops who know a neighborhood can't find an iPhone that's broadcasting its location, that shouldn't give you a lot of confidence in your own vigilante recovery of a stolen iProduct. Just saying. Consider this a PSA: just buy a new phone.
The boy alerted his father and Meehan pulled out his own cell phone and showed a property crimes detective sergeant the real time movement of the stolen phone.
Given the active signal of the stolen phone, the detective sergeant took his team to try to locate it. As the signal was moving into the city of Oakland, the detective sergeant called the drug task force to ask for some additional assistance and members of that team offered to help, said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, department spokeswoman..
The four sergeants followed the signal to the area of 55th and San Pablo avenues in North Oakland, where they contacted residents at several homes looking for the phone. It was never located.
There are some people who love machines the way some people love food. They fix things. They build things. They repair things. If you want your children to be this type of person, you may want to check out the wonderful new project that Lucas Ainsworth and Alyssa Hamel have up on Kickstarter.
Kinetic Creatures is a set of three cardboard animals that you assemble yourself. They don't just stand there, though: they walk! You can use human power or a little motor to send them on their way.
They are simple but also complex. They are crafty but also manufactured. They are real, but will only become available if enough people pool their money to bring them into being. These are creatures of our time.
Via Joe Moon
After a weird IPO, no one knows exactly what's going to happen with the social media's shares on its first full day of trading.
Many tech twitterers thought the company's first day on the market would go a lot better than it did.
I do not think that I can add anything to this video, but I would like to thank its creators, who have brought so much joy to me on this day. "Most of the people in this video have never met face to face," the video maintains. "We are a global family of people committed to inspiring and empowering each other via Facebook."
Don't miss the song's Facebook page, either.
OK, I do have one thing to say about this video. This is a celebrity singalong from our universe in which everyone sort of behaves like a celebrity. It's "We Are the World" multiplied by The Cult of the Amateur and raised to the power of Facebook's opening-day share price.
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