And, Google+.

Google Plus

I’ve had this around 24 hours now, and the critical question is – can Google+ replace a Facebook?

It’s definitely miles ahead of Orkut, but that’s a given. As far as FB comparisons go, there’s one critical feature they got bang on – the issue of privacy. My biggest grouse with FB has been that there are people on it who shouldn’t necessarily know who else is on it, and what they’re doing. G+ lets you split up everyone you know into insulated groups – and everything you mention from here onwards is specifically meant for exactly who you wanted to see it. It’s like having multiple social networks on the same profile, meant for different people.

The best privacy tool is your fingers – don’t post what you don’t want people to know. But this (circles) is the next best thing – now that you’re gonna post anyway, at least keep it withing the circle that won’t blow up in your face. Advantage G+.

The other advantage that G+ has is Gmail – almost everyone I know has an account. So a readymade, ready-to-go list of people already exists on G+. You don’t need to pull them in. Even.

Same with Picasa – there’s a readymade set of images to be shared. Even.

Share links for content shares – easier for FB since they got so massively integrated. Advantage FB.

FB still has the advantage in terms of apps, games, and content – what they need to do now, really, really fast, is differentiate the one mass of friends into distinct, separate, and insulated social circles. That’s easy, and will put them back in front. Right now… it’s iffy.

Google Analytics and Concurrent Users

First of all, read this.

LoadImpact’s post explains how you do this, and it’s a very useful article – I think it deserves to be shared around some more. It basically takes your per-hour data and timespends, and estimates the average concurrent visitor numbers from that.

But while I was testing this out, 2 things occurred to me –
One – is it misleading? when you calculate a peak, you’re taking an average over an hour. The actual spike would be far higher at the point of occurrence – i.e. if your average concurrent users are 10, and you calculate a peak of, say, 50 on one day – the logical assumption is that there will be fifty people on the site together, assuming a timespend of a minute. But those 3000 people could have come 1500 together in the first minute and 25 every minute after – so the actual peak would be 1500, something that doesn’t show or get implied.
(Maybe that’s why it’s not an official feature?)

Two – Now, Google is recording a timestamp on each open. They can calculate minute-to-minute, even second-to-second usage. This is fairly important data – Google, why don’t you just add it to the layout of the basic dashboard anyway? Annual average and peak within the selected daterange would be fine.

Moral of the story – if you’re using this method for an approximation, go ahead. But it might be a little misleading on the extremely high values and also on a series of similar, seemingly identical values. Remember that pinch of salt.

Watching S M

Google Reader Logo

Sorry, guys – please note the complete absence of the ‘&’ between the letters. Better luck next time! ūüôā

Experimenting around over the last week about what’s the best way to track social media, as an individual. Had an epiphany a little while back when I had 10+ tabs open, on 4 browsers, different sessions for different IDs on assorted social networks… and realized I’m going to need more. That’s just ridiculous.

Most of my activity on social networks and platforms consists of watching – so I started exploring what are the ways in which I can do this more efficiently, and finally, settled on a combination of Feedburner and Google Reader. Almost any dynamic content on the web can be converted to a feed, and Reader, while taking a little getting used to, is pretty good at organizing these. I initially thought it’ll just be a tool to collate updates, but it’s turning out to be more – by a simple process of narrowing down to specific sections in a site and creating feeds of those, you’re eliminating the need for the browsing through each one separately. Some of the good sites have been very intuitive with this, enabling feeds at just the right places (LinkedIn Q&A is a case in point.) The end result is actually redefining my browsing behavior.

Even my own content is easier to manage – I have 5 blogs, not to mention assorted other output in terms of photo uploads, tweets, video, etc. There were multiple blogrolls, subscriptions, follows, lists and favorites scattered through each of these. Now I can at least get it all in one place. It also leaves me free to block a lot of unnecessary updates on FB & Twitter, restoring some sanity to my timeline.

Make sure you go through your sharing settings on Reader once and understand them – a lot of what you watch you may not want to broadcast.

I realize this probably sounds very old hat – a lot of you will have been using Reader for years now – but in terms of the current issues over privacy, time lost in social media, information overload and drowning in a deluge of infojunk, if you haven’t used Reader till now, give it a shot. I really don’t see myself discarding this anytime soon.


Wave logo

Got a Google Wave invite at a time when I was pretty much resigned to waiting for commercial release before it happens.

I’m not going to get into the standard dicussions; just read this, this, and this. And continue surfing down some more interesting links you’ll find there. Instead, I’m going to talk about my experience with it so far, pure and simple.

First off – chances are, even if you did get Wave, a lot of the people in your contacts didn’t. In fact, most didn’t. So the most awesome part of Wave – the collaborative part – is pretty much untestable in a real-world situation; I have to do stuff alone, or mock stuff with 1-2 others, and then try to imagine how it’ll be when everyone’s involved. ¬†(Kind of like watching Eyes Wide Shut, heheh ūüėČ

So, I’m going to use analogies.

Scenario 1: Chat. There’s 4 of you in a Google chat, planning a weekend activity. Someone suggests a road trip. The others debate destinations and duration. One takes the initiative and does a little research, shares links to some tourism site and/or photos. You all see them, and the conversation continues.
What would be different in Wave – each link / photo / text could be added to the wave, and comments / debates about each destination could proceed centered around that particular item – a photo, a site link, a text block. Independently and with no confusion. With Gtalk, it’s totally linear; once a line is entered, it will move the conversation inoxerably forward; any attempts to return to an earlier point risks confusing everyone, or needs detailed explanations. Also, once you log off, it’s gone.

Scenario 2: eMail. Look at any mail in your inbox which has multiple replies. In Outlook, for example, it’s a nightmare – 15 people have replied, all the subject lines are the same, different people may have accessed the mail at different times and replied to earlier versions… how do you find one specific comment? In threaded, conversation-style mails like Gmail, it’s easier but still quite difficult; it’s a hub-spoke model, which means that while the guy everyone is replying to, knows what everyone’s saying; but the others don’t know what the rest of the gang has to say. Which means that one guy has to send out updates and final decisions; until then, everyone’s in the dark.

Scenario 3: A shared Google Document. Everyone involved in the exercise is given access, and they can add in their comments, updates, etc. Which means that now, while everyone can see what the others have done, it’s only one person at a time who can make changes. Plus, it’s cumbersome – uploading it, giving permissions… tracking who did what and when…

Scenario 4: A forum. Here, the linearity can be overcome by replying to replies in a thread, but the interface is very clumsy and hard to use. Not to mention lack of flexibility, and it’s real-time only to the point that you sit with a finger on f5, hit it every few seconds, then scroll up-and-down, back-and-forth across the entire thread to see changes.

Scenario 5: A webex+phone conversation. While multiple people may be involved, and conversations can go back to cover earlier points, clarify others, demonstrate actions – it’s still group listening, 1 person talking, and any instance of multiparty participation needs to have set rules and generally leads to frayed tempers. And, it’s expensive.

All the above disadvantages is precisely what Wave gets around. It’s live, real-time. Accessible to all. Easy to use. Simple to search. Non-linear, which puts it in a league ahead of everything else, including a phone conversation. (Face-to-face with visual aids like a whiteboard is pretty close, except that even here you have to take notes and get people into the same room.) Embeddable. Has drag-and-drop-level ease of use.

Then let’s talk about the add-ons which make the above even better.
It’s open-source, which means people can create applications for collaboration the way facebook had users creating apps for socialization. Think about it for a minute. How many times have you thought, when struggling with Outlook / Webex, ‘God, I wish I had something that could just _______ (share / send / take notes / explain / translate / upload / etc)…’ Now, whenever somebody has a similar thought, and any one of them has an idea of how to make it happen… an app will get written and plugged in. The commoner the problem, the higher the chances somebody’s going to solve it. An app to translate into a other language? Already there. An app to lookup a phone number and give the registration details, address, etc? Not too far off, I hope. A mini-Alexa to evaluate sites under discussion? Why not?
It’s embeddable, which means a wave ¬†can be added to other sites – yes, like a live collaborative blog – but also means it’s a remote content-management system for websites. Accessible from anywhere and anytime. By anyone you choose to add into the wave.
It can replace comments and forums. Why be linear? Why be text-only?
Gadgets and Robots – Something you need to keep doing regularly, outside of Wave? Chances are, someone’s created a robot to do just that, automating your manual work ¬†like tweet updates, flickr lookups/uploads, ¬†a dictionary, a route calculator, a countdown timer, a birthday reminder…
Think Wiki. Open-source. Collaborative. Crowdsourced. User-policed. These attributes resulted in the creation of probably the world’s best, most detailed and most exhaustive repository of knowledge… and because it’s live, then over time, also the most error-free. Isn’t that exactly the same attributes in Wave, too? ¬†A single wave can, with the right people involved, become the most exhaustive subject matter in any field. Live. Accessible. Interactive.

That’s it for now – waiting for Wave to get opened up to the public so the rest of my contact list is on. That’s when it’s going to really take off!

Tomorrow happened yesterday and you never noticed

This is a really old video, and I’m sure all of you would have seen it at some point. I thought it’ll be an interesting thing to re-look, and see just how right – and wrong – Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson¬†were.
I suggest watching the video, if you haven’t seen it yet, before reading the rest. It’ll make more sense.

2004 – a store that can make suggestions
True. Most online retailers have some kind of a rating system, consumer-based. eBay and Amazon being the best examples.
Reason magazine sends subscribers a issue of mag with their house on the cover.
Sure. Absolutely possible, and if Google decides to do this, they can put a lot more than just where you live… But it’ll scare the pants off people. Maybe Time’s declaring You the Person of the Year ¬†in 2006 was premature, for their hard copy version; if you’re a digital subscriber, it could actually have been you. With your ugly mug on the cover.

Keyhole Google Earth. Google Maps.¬†Latitude. ’nuff said.
Google begins indexing and digitizing the world’s library
Google Books has happened. Yes, there were legal issues. Yes, the courts ruled in favor of Google.
Google Grid – in some form, already there. The network of Google-owned different apps – Picasa, Orkut, Youtube, Google Docs, Gmail, Gtalk, Blogger… not to forget Facebook, who does all this in one site via an open API for user-contributed applications…

Newsbotster sorts news according to what each user’s friends and colleagues are reading.
Sounds familiar, all right… How much of your daily media is consumed via facebook recommends, posted links, items liked, forwards, videos posted, images tagged..?

Googlezon’s bots pick up contextual cues… and serve up related content.
Adwords. Maybe not all content – yet –¬†but advertising content is definitely contextual.
Fact-stripping robots are a violation of copyright law
Yes. This debate also happened with the¬†Gutenberg Project (even though most of Gutenberg’s texts were not subject to copyright law), and Google Books (over a million scanned so far)

Is anyone else seeing the similarity to Google Wave?
Everyone gets paid a tiny cut of Googlezon’s ad revenue
Adsense again. The entire SEM industry is based on this. The Long Tail has become a part of mainstream business lexicon.
Epic – at it’s worst, and for too many, Epic is a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow, and sensational.¬†
Think status messages, link shares, forwards, spam, comments and tweets? Don’t you curse the people who flood you with this useless flood of non-information, at least once a day?

There was an updated version called 2015, but it didn’t have the… purity of 2014. Apple, Picasa and podcasting were just bunged in as a perfunctionary mention. I’ll stick with the original.

In the end, it always comes back to organizing the information coming in, choosing who generates it. The same rating system that lets you pick a good seller or a good product, is equally extendable to choosing your media inputs. There are specialist websites, content creators, which are rated more highly than others; Often niche and superspecialized, but organizing those niches is going to be a basic survival trait of the human mind.
The ability to ‘Prioritize’ is already a survival and success trait; those of us who know what we’re looking for, have happier lives. The rest… lost in a swirling maelstorm of fluid, shifting information, prey to anomie and living in terror of change, finding solace in simplifiers – drugs, drink, repetitive rigid behavior… can you see it?
Good content gets the rating it deserves from people who recognize it. These people spread the word. Others who recognize that value consume the info as well. And that is social media at it’s best. Getting good info, on the subjects you want, from known, credited¬†sources.

The darker side of the story –
Some organizations know more and more about us. Virtually everything there is to know about us. The amount of personal, private information we willingly entrust to strangers, is staggering. Our email exchanges, documents, what we look like, preferences, realtime locations, even psychological test results… If someone wanted to, could they misuse this data?
Theoretically, yes. Practically…
In 1999, the total sum of all human-created data from all history was about 12 exabytes.
On the 15th of June, 2009, 494 exabytes of data were being transmitted across the globe.
(1 exabyte = approximately 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.)

A human cannot keep up with this. A machine – not now. But Moore’s Law is likely to hold good for another 600 years; and while Skynet might happen before that, it’s going to have it’s hands more than full just trying to keep afloat on the exaflood.

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Sources: Mostly Wikipedia.

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