Google+ and Building Better Online Privacy Models

July 5th, 2011, 15 comments

Apologies to those of you following me on Google+: this post is a rehash of conversations I had this weekend on the service.

The original conception of the Facebook "Wall" was based on the whiteboard college students hang on their dorm room door. Students who lived in your dorm could walk down the hallway and jot messages for the room residents on those whiteboards. ("Ultimate frisbee on the quad at 4pm today" or "Dinner tonight?") Any student who walked down the hallway could see those messages. When you're 22 and your most significant life experience is college, your dorm room hallway is your main community of neighbors and friends. As an adult who has graduated from a few schools and had a few jobs, you've got multiple hallways. That's the problem Google+ Circles attempts to address: letting users define their "hallways."

Now, a student would write something much differently on her best friend's dorm door whiteboard than she would on a flyer she plastered on every public corkboard on campus. The way we talk and what we share differs based on who we think can see and hear those things. From what I can see so far, Google's doing its best to recreate that sense of who-can-see-what-here in Google+.

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Andy Hertzfeld on Giving Credit Where Credit’s Due
July 1st, 2011, 1 comment

Now some people are saying that I'm responsible for the broad visual refresh now rolling out across Google, which couldn't be further from the truth - in fact, I'm not even sure I like it.


Google is now highlighting authors and content creators next to web pages in search results, and it just started working for this blog. Here's how to hook it up for your site. (Hint: use the http, not https, link to your Google profile in your rel="author" link.)

June 30th, 2011, 2 comments


Harvard Business Review: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women
June 30th, 2011, 2 comments

That finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance. Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.

Steven Levy on Google+’s Apple-esque Design
June 29th, 2011, 1 comment

[Larry] Page seems to recognize that this project in some ways requires a different approach from the Google norm. One variation that users will notice comes in interface design — conspicuously, in Circles. With colorful animations, drag-and-drop magic and whimsical interface touches, Circles looks more like a classic Apple program than the typically bland Google app. That’s no surprise since the key interface designer was legendary software artist Andy Herzfeld.

The former Macintosh wizard now works at Google — though he loves the company, he had previously felt constrained because its design standards didn’t allow for individual creativity. But with [Google+], he had a go-ahead to flex his creative muscles. “It wasn’t a given that anyone would like what I was doing, but they did,” he says.

Traditionally, Larry Page has been a blood foe of “swooshy” designs and animations geared to delight users. He feels that it such frills slow things down. But Page has signed off on the pleasing-pixel innovations in Circles, including a delightful animation when you delete a circle: It drops to the bottom of the screen, bounces and sinks to oblivion. That animation adds a few hundred milliseconds to the task; in the speed-obsessed Google world that’s like dropping “War and Peace” on a reading list. “I’ve heard in the past that Larry Page he didn’t like animations but that didn’t stop me from putting in a lot of animations in, and Larry told me he loves it.” says Hertzfeld. “Maybe Apple’s resurgence had a little bit to do with it.”

What Google+ Learned from Buzz and Wave

June 29th, 2011, 32 comments

After a half day of using Google+ with the limited number of people I know in the field test so far, I like it a lot. I will love Google+ when and if all my friends show up and stick around.

I've been been watching Google flail around social web apps for a few years now, so what I appreciate most about Google+ is that it's a well-thought out product informed by past experience. The more I use Google+, the more I see just how many lessons Google learned from Wave and Buzz, such as:

Don't even test a social product without email notifications. One of Wave's first mistakes is that it went out to test users without email notifications about new activity. New users would receive an invite, jump in, send waves, leave, and then when others responded to those waves after they left, those new users had no idea. If they didn't return to Wave (many didn't), the replies went unacknowledged, creating a lonely experience for the people who did come back.

G+'s email notification handling is particularly elegant. It gives you the choice—on by default—to let your friends who aren't on yet know there's something going on.

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The Data Liberation Front Announces Google Takeout · The video might be even better than the product concept. Takeout your data here. June 28th, 2011, 2 comments


Obliged to Do Meaningful Work

June 28th, 2011, 4 comments

My mother was a New York City public school teacher for over 20 years. She loved it. She was great at it too, partially because she knew it was one of the most important jobs in the city. Both in the classroom and at home, Mom relied on a very effective teaching technique: repetition. My siblings and I can recite, word for word, dozens of "Mom-isms" which she said to us over and over in multiple contexts as we grew up. One of those lessons still echoes in my mind, years later:

"With every privilege comes an equal and corresponding responsibility." —Mom

As a child this meant I didn't get the privilege of my allowance unless I did my chores and cleaned my room. As an adult the concept is the same, but on a larger scale. Given the privilege of my education, experience, access, and financial status of comfortably paying the bills, I have a responsibility to work on something meaningful.

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Google’s New Suite of Social Tools: Google+

June 28th, 2011, 13 comments

Today Google announces a new suite of social tools, Google+, which includes five products: Circles, Hangouts, Instant Upload, Sparks, and Huddle. Google+ is what we were calling "Google Me" last summer. The easiest way to see what each product does is to take this tour.

The breakdown:

  • Circles is a way to silo your friends by your relationship to them, i.e., the "real life" social network.
  • Hangouts is group video chatrooms. You indicate you're "hanging out" and available to talk to certain friends, and they hop in if they want.
  • Instant Upload sends photos directly from your phone and shares them with the people you choose without having to tap through several sharing app buttons and controls on your device.
  • Sparks appear to be saved searches for relevant web content with easy ways to share with your friends. Sounds like a social custom Google News or Google Alert.
  • Huddle is a group texting product. You're making lunch plans with 4 people, and Huddle lets you text everyone at once.

Steven Levy's epic Wired piece describes Google's motivations and processes behind building Google+; Dave Winer yawns. Personally I'm thrilled to see Google take on some of the harder problems around social, and I look forward to trying Hangouts and Circles in particular. While Google's track record around social products doesn't bode well for them, I'll reserve further judgement until I get a shot at field-testing Google+. How about you?

How I Bought Lunch in Manhattan with Bitcoins
June 27th, 2011

At the exchange rate the author got, I could have almost afforded 2 hummus plates with my 1 Bitcoin, at the time. Interesting worldwide experiment, indeed. (via)

Consumer Reports: What’s going on with Google TV?
June 27th, 2011, 9 comments

Thanks to Wave I'm gunshy about recommending unpopular Google products, but I'll say it: I really like Google TV. True, it's not the king of usability, but once you get it set up, having a full-on tabbed browser with Flash support on your TV is awesome. It means you get to watch almost every kind of obscure Flash-based video clip and stream (with notable exceptions, of course). I bookmark web videos in my "to watch" Instapaper folder and Stellar collects videos my friends have favorited during the day, and I watch them on my TV in-browser at night. We also use it to Google/IMDB/Twitter search for actors, writers, and shows we're watching constantly. It's fun to watch Twitter search results fly by during live events like American Idol or a UFC fight; many TV shows have some sort of hashtag watermark on them these days, so if you're watching live, that works too. Google TV desperately needs the Android Market on it and a ton more apps. But despite the need for a keyboard in your living room, a browser on your TV is an underrated concept.

Linux.com: Task Management from the CLI to Android with Todo.txt
June 23rd, 2011

Thanks to Nathan Willis for his thorough article on the current state of the Todo.txt apps universe. This may be just the nudge I need to put some time in moving those projects along—Todo.txt Touch really needs a homescreen widget.

iA Writer
June 23rd, 2011, 3 comments

Generally I find "distraction-free text editors" precious and unnecessary, but iA Writer is changing my mind. The typography and the sentence-by-sentence focus are fantastic. "Reading time" is interesting. I have mixed feelings about using Markdown in my text files—I platform-hop, and Markdown just doesn't look great in editors which don't support it—but otherwise enjoying iA Writer for drafting blog posts, cheat sheets, and notes to self on the Mac. It's 18 bucks in the Mac App Store.

The New York Times, 1982: “Study Says Technology Could Transform Society”
June 22nd, 2011, 2 comments

I was seven years old when this fascinating 1982 New York Times article published, reporting on a study which predicts the internet:

A report commissioned by the National Science Foundation and made public today speculates that by the end of this century electronic information technology will have transformed American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life.

The report suggests that one-way and two-way home information systems, called teletext and videotex, will penetrate deeply into daily life, with an effect on society as profound as those of the automobile and commercial television earlier in this century.

It described the work-at-home career I have almost 30 years later pretty specifically:

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TWiG 100 Congratulatory Video Compilation · TWiG's heroic producer Eileen Rivera put together this fantastic compilation which includes some of our favorite guests to celebrate our 100th episode today. Thank you so much to Kevin Purdy, Chris DiBona, Mitch Wagner, Kevin Marks, and Tom Merritt for cracking us up and making the whole TWiG crew feel the love. June 22nd, 2011, 5 comments