Tag Ideas

Google Plus a Second Look

I’ve been using Google+ for the last few days, nearly exclusively to get real feel for it over the other options that are so ingrained in my day-to-day. After a few days there are number of things that really stand out to me and other based on things I’ve been reading online.

The biggest stand out is Circles and how they affect your Stream (think News Feed in Facebook). I really like the idea behind Circles and the ability to publish content to the right people rather than one size fits all. I would also love for my organization of people into Circles it would also influence the content I receive. For example, if the “friends” circle is only for close, real-life friends, and “acquaintances” is for those people I’ve met but not necessarily close to, shouldn’t that also influence who shows up in my stream. In my case I added Robert Scoble to my “follow” Circle as he often has interesting things to say. When I say often, I mean he post multiple times a day. Now he overwhelms my global Stream. I know this is partly because he’s posting more than my other connections but I want to know what my friends are doing/saying way more than an acquaintance (or follow). Granted this is not everyone’s use case for G+, so I suggest that Circles and how they bias the content in your Stream be controllable.

The second big thing with Circles is the overlapping content and no quick way to see if you’ve already seen that content. My friend Arpit suggests a “read” option for posts similar to how it works in any email system or Google’s Reader…so they should be able to easily handle this from a technical side. This overlapping also rears its head when managing your circles. For this I think another friend‘s suggestion would be a huge help…displaying the Circles as Venn diagrams. Not for every view but it would be hugely helpful managing the groups.

My last thought on Circles is to connect them with Sparks (topics), Arpit touches on this with his “Smart Circles” idea in his post on ways to improve Circles. Currently Sparks is completely generic feeling with generic topics and stock art topic images. These should be join-able, like a public Circle based on around a topic. It’d be a perfect way to bring content I’m interested in into my Stream. For example, there’s one on recipes, as a foodie I’d like to join this and maybe post to it as well. Thus offing salacious recipes intermixed with my friends and family’s social updates.

One lacking with Google Plus’s Stream is the ability to +1 a comment. Though many feel this ability to “like” a comment on post is unnecessary within Facebook it’s actually something I felt myself looking for when reading stuff in G+. I don’t use it often on Facebook, but it comes in handy as a way to agree/acknowledge a statement without having to write “I agree”. Granted this may add little to a conversation on its own, but it does let the writer know their message was received/read and used as a way to filter responses on post with more comments than could be displayed in a reduced state.

Some of the other issues come from the newness of the service: lack of diversity of the membership (most conversations are about Google+, hello worlds and technology), updates being out of sync (Gmail is the most up to date, then site post refresh, then the Android app), and figuring out how it fits with the rest of my social outlets. Minor UI issues on the Android app which are both personal learning curve from previous experiences and potential misses on a V1 app. These things happen.

The issues above are minimal and far from deal breakers but when Google is up against Facebook and the habits of its 500 million users Google needs to over deliver again and again. Since they’ve already made some updates since Tuesday’s launch the future looks promising for Google Plus.

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Related articles:
Some Ideas for Google Circles by Arpit Mathur
Why yo daddy won’t use Google+ by Robert Scoble

Looking back at the Techcrunch Disrupt Hackathon


The idea behind the hackathon was to turn an idea into reality in 24 hours. Well at noon Arpit, Gabo and myself were still trying to figure out which one of our ideas we should work on. Luckily, when we checked in we came to a consensus. We settled on creating a commenting platform that would be site agnostic and simpler to find relevant content. The full concept includes integration with blogs and sites replacing their silo-ed system with one that helps spread the word and lowers the bar for participation. Obviously, the full package couldn’t be completed in 24 hours so we focused on building and testing the basic concept.


We got off to a rough start, plagued with technical glitches and an overloaded wifi. Since our project, called Yatr (pronounced yatter), was using a number of web based API’s the wifi’es were kinda important. As the night went on our table mates decided to call it quits, as did others. Despite the late hour and reduced numbers there was still a energetic vibe in the room. No doubt the cans of Red Bull and endless coffee had something to do with this.


When the sun started rising my eyes wanted to do the opposite. Thankfully a quick walk outside helped me get my energy back. At that time we were wiring up the designs to the back-end and dealing with some minor bugs. So we were feeling good about making the 9:30 deadline. By the time 9:30 hit I was busy working on the presentation and making sure I could explain our work within 60 seconds. An hour later we piled in to the auditorium (of sorts) where each of the teams sharing with the world what they’ve been working on for the previous 24 hours.

The first one out of the gate was Docracy, a online way to validate legal documents. Very cool idea and definitely set the bar for both concepts and delivery. Not surprisingly they were also one of the winners for the day. Sixty nine teams later it was my turn to present. Almost no one likes presenting to a crowd let alone trying to do so while compressing 24 hours into 1 minute. Since I had been practicing for a while I felt ready. Still 60 seconds is both forever and over in an instant.

Yatr didn’t win, but it’s not just about winning. Instead, we walked out with a working product and a architecture to take it to the next level. We also got a chance to see what other people feel strongly enough about that they would spend 24 hours working on a solution for. There was some really great projects beyond the few that got called out on TechCrunch and exhausted or not staying for all the presentations were just as rewarding as making Yatr into a working product.

UPDATE: If you would like to know more about Yatr, see how it works and why we did it check out Arpit’s post Yatr: Our hack for the Techcrunch NYC Hackathon.

Week in Links: Apps, Ideas and Reality

Top 10 Twitter AppsApple’s “there’s an app for that” marketing has been causing companies to go app crazy and forget that a websites are still the primary point of interaction for users.  A few weeks back the folks at Twitter reminded people that despite the fact that the heavy users all use 3rd party apps (desktop or mobile) the majority of users (78%) use Twitter.com. This week the folks at Twitter launched a new version of Twitter.com that features a number of elements that were previously only available in the app world.  They added a dynamic side panel to showcase user profiles and conversation view all while not disturbing the core of what Twitter.com was.  They’ve brought the sophistication of the external apps to the masses and with this they may have inadvertently signaled the return to web apps. For those that haven’t gotten the (rolling) invite to the new site check out TechCrunch’s overview “Best subtle things about new Twitter“.

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A week doesn’t go by without Google making an announcement about something or other. This week they get their Google Voice app back on the iPhone. MacRumors gives a detailed run through of the app. Looks like Google has cleaned up their UI a bit with this version and offers just about everything the phone could do with the addition feature of translating your voice-mails into text. The one thing it can’t do at the moment is MMS, otherwise for $2.99 you can double the number of phones in your pocket without the bulk.

Also Google related is the steady growth of their Android platform, which is now 17% of the smartphone market. To put that in perspective the iPhone is at 24% and RIM’s BlackBerry commands 39%. Also note that the overall smartphone market has grown and these numbers are percentages of that growing market (data from Wired).

Part of Android’s success is it promotion from Verizon not having the iPhone to promote and instead needing to compete with it. Now Verizon wants a bigger cut of the action and has opened their own app marketplace. They say it’s for improved customer choice, but I’ll go with control and money.

While Android is growing into the third largest smartphone platform Nokia held it’s Nokia World 2010 event. They boasted that Nokia has a larger market penetration then Apple and Android combined, the threat is clear (as in they’re threatened). They followed their showcase of facts with info on their latest models, the N8 being the darling of the bunch. They flaunted “they perform day in and day out no matter how you hold them,” an obvious dig on the iPhone4. Then went into talking about the latest advances in Symbian and coding for it. Sadly, for US customers as nice as Nokia’s equipment is, if no carrier picks them up they don’t exist.

Final reference to Google (for this week) is their recent site/blog conveniently called Google New where they are posting all their latest products/projects. And by the looks of it they’ve been busy.

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FCC is looking at opening up some radio frequencies, one of the selling points for opening these frequencies is the potential for Super WiFi. The are suggesting that this new Super WiFi would be able to travel farther and through buildings due to the longer wavelengths.

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“Flash is dead, long live HTML5/CSS3.” Ever since Steve Job’s BS’ed his reasons why he didn’t want Flash on the iPhone this mantra of many front-end developers had some indisputable logic in regards to the mobile market. Now Android 2.1 supports Flash inside a browser as well as HTML5 true comparisons can finally be made. Based on the finding of Christopher Black’s tests (the video below) and a number of others Steve’s claims are no longer valid, if they ever truly were. So once again, developers have a choice as to what the right tool for the job.

Based on how the two technologies work it’s of little surprise, to me, that Flash (a platform based around animation) out performs HTML (which is designed around static structured layouts. Don’t get me wrong HTML/JavaScript have come a long way and in many ways fulfills the need that once only Flash could fill.

I’m impressed with how far HTML and JavaScript have come but structurally it’s not meant to do the animations etc. that Flash is specifically designed for. For me it’s about picking the right tool for the job and there are many factors that go into that choice, but jumping on a bandwagon shouldn’t be one of them…but I digress.

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Pencil Vs Camera - 24It’s so easy in the world of technology and tight time frames to skip some seemingly tangential steps in order get the product or design out in time. Sometimes we just need to be reminded that we need to get back to the basics. I know that one thing that often gets skipped are the rough little sketches, Spyrestudios has done a nice write up to remind us of the benefits of sketching (and wireframes) in fleshing out ideas and saving time. It’s also a great way to look back and see the progress of ideas and inspire new ones.

A different way to look back and see how things progressed is BookTwo‘s 12 book collection displaying the changes to the “facts” of the Iraq War over the course of 5 years. The concept is simple enough, collect all the changes to the Wikipedia page on the Iraq War in one place. What it reveals is anything but simple, more of antithesis of the Orwellian nightmare 1984, where news/history was rewritten with no trace of what was.  Then again, out side of BookTwo’s project how many people are looking into trail of changes that make today’s truth.

Returning to the temporal life where now is everything, context-aware computers will be a welcomed addition to the ever growing overflow of information. For years this has been an “up and coming” technology, now (read: once again) the researchers at IBM (and many others) are hoping the power of smartphones will provide the always on, GPS info and increased processing needed to make context-aware computers a reality. What’s interesting about all this technology and it’s promise still echoes some of the thoughts of Marshall McLuhan and Norman Mailer from the late 60’s. Beyond theory and technical abilities data sensitivity will also have to be addressed before the masses should be adopting little brother to guide them through life.

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The value of ideas is one that seems to fluctuate depending on personal circumstance. If you’re the creator of the idea, then the idea is everything. If you’re the producer of ideas (production) then it’s the implementation of the idea that matters most. So which is it? As someone that straddles both sides it’s not any simpler to define. Like most things in life the truth lies in the gray area between the extremes. Recently, my buddy Arpit delivered his take on this topic and I think he’s on to something…iteration. A back and forth between pure concept and implementation. Love the connection to dogfighting as a example of idea->action proving iteration is the actual key to success (courtesy of Jeff Atwood’s own post on the subject).