quote

“Google’s insertion of unsolicited ads directly into inboxes is made possible, paradoxically, by its success in otherwise eliminating them. Google has essentially conquered spam, which was once predicted to be the death of e-mail: less than one per cent of all spam in Gmail reaches an inbox. It could not stuff its own ads in the box if it had not already cleared the space.”

Jon L.’s response: I’ve been using Gmail since it appeared 9 years ago, and while I’m aware Google uses the service to render ads, I never notice them. I’m no more likely to notice them in my inbox, especially if they’re in a box categorized as “promotions.” (All I see in there now, incidentally, is stuff I signed up for).

I’m getting this incredibly sophisticated, spam-free and flexible email system for free; if the cost of that is receipt of a few barely visible ads, I’m certainly not going to quibble. So to Matt Buchanan’s question whether the ads are “too invasive,” I would say no.

Matt Buchanan on integrated ads in Gmail’s redesigned inbox: http://nyr.kr/1aJaw2Y (via newyorker)
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Richard Gingras at the International Symposium on Online Journalism

Richard Gingras, Google News

Richard Gingras, Google News

The leader of Google News gave an insightful talk about the current state of online journalism. Here are my tweets during his keynote. Appreciated his visionary thinking about the state and future of news, especially the extent to which the concept of a “news story” is being redefined and reshaped as the Internet evolves past old media paradigms (page/periodical/book) and new forms of distribution emerge that are a more natural fit for technical and social networks. One caveat: he doesn’t really have to think the same way as some of the other speakers about finding a new business model – Google already has one that works. Also note that he was feeling good about Google+. (You think Facebook has Google+ beat? We used to think that Apple was never going to be a leader.)

(Pardon my typos.)

http://storify.com/jonl/richard-gingras-at-the-international-symposium-on

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Code Across America ATX: A Civic Innovation Hackathon

ATX Codeathon

Google-funded Code for America was in Austin Saturday for a codeathon using data accessible via the city’s data portal. I dropped by the geek chic coworking facility Conjunctured, where the codeathon was happening, and hung out long enough to get a sense of the projects the ~40 coders were tackling. Those included a Bike Accident and Route Safety app, an app for finding miscellaneous stuff around town, and a “garden dating” app (to help people who want a community garden find a space). What was missing? For at least one project (Find It), there were fewer sources of data than the developers would’ve liked. I realized that it’s not enough to bring coders together to create apps – we should also be cultivating data sources. A project to build databases and facilitate citizen input would be a logical complement to the various codeathons.

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AR glasses coming from Google

Google glasses (or maybe we should all ’em Google Goggles) will be an interesting AR advance, more science friction happening now, if they do happen. Preview (aka rumor) at 9to5Google.

These glasses, we heard, have a front-facing camera used to gather information and could aid in augmented reality apps. It will also take pictures. The spied prototype has a flash —perhaps for help at night, or maybe it is just a way to take better photos. The camera is extremely small and likely only a few megapixels.

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The U.S. Navy has a clue about Google+

Google+ is my social tool of choice these days, feeling more functional and valuable than Facebook, Twitter, et al. This is especially true for me because I’ve adopted so many parts of Google’s web ecosystem. Via a link posted by David Armano of Edelman, I’ve just found the most clueful Google+ overview I’ve seen – produced by the U.S. Navy.

Whats the deal with Google+?
View more presentations from US Navy Social Media

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Post-Internet Google+ Beta Madness

I’ve been researching, thinking about, and presenting on the future of the Internet, and this week I’m preparing to propose a SXSW panel and getting ready for a presentation next week at Bootstrap Interactive in Austin. At the moment I’m thinking we’re in a “post-Internet” era. The collaborative, peer to peer network of networks has been co-opted and overlaid by a very few large corporations, and as was the case with earlier information technologies (film, radio, television) monopolies (or duopolies) are forming for network access, hardware, and information services, and the advertising model originated by David Sarnoff et al. for radio is pervasive on an Internet thick with ads – increasingly sites you visit throw an obnoxious full-screen ad in your face as you land. I’m hearing more and more conversations about building a new alternative Internet (and, for that matter, alternative economies and forms of governance).

As I was thinking hard about this, and digging deeper, Google + launched, and the geekiest cohort among my friends started showing up for the limited beta. Plus is YAAS (“yet another activity stream”), probably better-engineered and more social than Facebook’s. No real marketing vibe so far, just a lot of people hanging out (often literally, using G+’s “Hangout” feature, a high-quality form of videoconferencing that’s very cool but crashy).

Google + is the Next Big Rockit. People who are (or wannabe) paid to think about social media are filling many buckets with bits of speculative and often redundant information about the system, which doesn’t strike me as particularly new and innovative in the patterns it’s aggregated. But it is a welcome change from the other high-adoption social environments du jour, namely Facebook and Twitter. Unlike Twitter, it allows longer-form posts and inline media-sharing. Unlike Facebook, it has functional management of relationships (via Circles) and better handling of both transparency and privacy…

And did you mention Diaspora? Their launch has been so constrained as to be a mere whisper, next to the great swooshing sound of the Google+ launch.

I saw Robert Scoble post that he likes it because he can share videos and articles with everybody, and I assume that his emphasis was not on the ability to share (because we’ve been sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed et al), but on the idea of sharing “with everybody.” Google + is structured so that you can see and reach more people, and when you’re selective about what you see it’s your choice, not a selection by algorithm as you have in Facebook’s “Top Stories.” At Google + you can drop people into “circles” according to whatever categorization scheme fits your DNA, and that’s really the only operational filter at this point.

But, back to my point about the post-Internet world, what’s been cool about Google+ so far has been the absence of that overlay of commercial messaging that has fogged other sites. It’s been a relatively spam-free zone, reminding me what fired me up about online social spaces from the 80s onward. How long the beta period will last I don’t know, but it’s been a nice reminder of what we could potentially have, if we could turn down the volume the advertising and marketing blasts that seem so much pervasive online lately than even on television or radio.

Back to thinking hard about the future of the Internet.

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Technology: tipping the balance

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

Something immense is happening as the world transitions to a hyperconnected state where, for many, the distinction between the real and virtual worlds has ceased to exist. All the trailing paraphernalia of states and borders and government-to-government palavers, not to mention privacy laws, look so 20th century.

The more I speak and write about “the future of the Internet,” the more I realize that I’m talking about the future of the human world. Cohen goes on to say “that technology and international relations are becoming interchangeable topics. There are many more networks in our future than treaties.”

Clueful, yes. Also interesting is the article’s mention of Google Ideas and Jared Cohen’s thinking

that technology is agnostic: It can be used in the cause of freedom — and has been to great effect from Tunis to Cairo — just as it can be used in the cause of repression. So how do you “tip the balance in favor of the net positive?”

There’s seven billion people in the world, population’s growing every day. We’ve been organized as nations, and more recently corporations have been taking power and authority for action (though they still work through legacy forms, i.e. legislatures that are influenced by various means, including contributions of money and personal persuasion). We see a tendency for people to want to have something we call “freedom,” though the meaning of that label, and its limits, are not always clear. Traditionally effective action has been associated with authority and leadership, and the nature and meaning of leadership in a democratized world is unclear. (Also the pervasive influence of corruption, and how it will play out if systems of authority are diminished, as we have more “freedom.”)

We live in exciting and “interesting” times, but we should be skeptical – and I appreciate Jared Cohen’s point about the uncertain potential in social technology. We should be exploring how to tip the balance.

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A note about “network neutrality”

This is something I posted in the “state of the world” conversation with Bruce Sterling on the WELL…

I give talks on the history and future of media, and on the history, evolution, and history of the Internet. I gave the talk this week to a small group gathered for lunch in a coworking space here in Austin, and after hearing the talk a technologist I know, Gray Abbott, suggested that I say more about the coming balkanization of the network as the most likely scenario. The Internet is a network of networks that depends on cooperative peering agreements – I carry your traffic and you carry mine. The high speed Internet is increasingly dependent on the networks of big providers, the telcos or cable companies like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Time Warner, and Comcast. They all see the substantial value supported by their networks and want to extract more of it for themselves. They talk about the high cost of bandwidth as a rationale for charging more for services – or metering services – but I think the real issue is value. When you see Google and Facebook and Netflix making bundles of money using your pipes, you want a cut. And if you’ve also tried to get into the business of providing content, it’s bothersome to see your network carrying other competing content services, including guerilla media distribution via BitTorrent.

However higher costs could become a barrier. The value of the Internet is a network effect – it’s more valuable as more people use it to do more things; cost as a barrier to entry could reduce participation and diminish the Internet’s value. Killing the golden goose, so to speak. Low cost barriers also stimulate innovation. If I want to create a television series, aside from production costs, I also have to find a broadcast or cable network that will carry it – I have to get permission, in effect, because broadcast and cable channels are relatively scarce and relatively expensive to get into. Larry Lessig pointed out, in his review of The Social Network, the real story of Mark Zuckerberg – that he could build Facebook from nothing without asking anybody’s permission.

“Network neutrality” is about limiting restrictions on use and access,not necessarily about controlling cost, though it might mitigate against “toll roads” on the information superhighway. According to the Wikipedia article on net neutrality, “if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for the same level of access, then the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access.” That doesn’t really suggest a low cost of entry, and even with “neutral” networks (or, as we prefer to say these days, an Open Internet), the overall cost of access could increase, or there could be metering that would contain some sorts of activities, like video transmissions. Right now I have unmetered or flat rate access, so I could watch all the Netflix and Hulu I want without additional cost.

Time Warner or AT&T U-verse customers are dropping the cable television services because they can download all the programs they want via the Internet service from the same company. I can imagine companies looking at stats – more and more customers dropping the service, more and more bandwidth dedicated to streaming and BitTorrent. It’s no wonder these companies are feeling cranky, and it’s no wonder they’re talking about finding ways to charge more money. But this is what their customers want.

This isn’t really about the Internet as an information service or a platform for sharing and collaboration. This is about the Internet as a channel for media, an alternative to cable television. One fear many of us have had is that big network companies will push that interpretation. “It’s time for the Internet to grow up, we want to make a real network with real quality of service, we want to make it more like our cable networks.” Which are more tightly controlled, of course, and carry only the content the providers agree to carry.

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Clay Shirky at Google

Talking about concepts and stories from Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Talking about using the cognitive surplus to leverage digital opportunity and human generosity, producing productive and amazing things. “The key thing here is not so much about the technology itself, but the culture that forms around it.”

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Fiber Fete: Google’s fiber testbed

Minnie Ingersoll of Google at Fiber Fete talking about what Google is doing with it’s fiber testbed project.

What they want to do:
1) next generation applications.
2) Experiment with new and innovative ways to build out fiber networks
3) Work with “open access” networks

Not becoming a national ISP or cable tv provider. Google had suggested the FCC needed to make this kind of testbed, but realized the Commission had other focuses. Google realized this would be within their purview based on their mission statement.

Application review process for proposals from cities wanting the testbed project has begun. Over 1,100 communities applied. Evaluating based on speed and efficiency of deployment. Understanding how the community will benefit. Much will depend on the conversation they have with the communities as they learn more about their needs.

Working now on developing the offering. Openness – Is this a white label or wholesale service? What products and service partnerships are possible. Google will also develop its own high-bandwidth offerings.

May choose more than one community with very different characteristics.

Applications are full of civic pride. You learn what makes the various locations/communities unique.

Will announce services as soon as possible.

Leverage the enthusiasm – Google to create a web site to help communities connect with other resources. Don’t want to have cities feel excluded from getting higher-end broadband services.

What policies need to be in place to support broadband now?

Brough Turner asks about middle mile networks. Something Google looks at – where do they already have fiber? Sometimes communities farthest from the infrastructure, though, are the ones that would benefit most.

Bice Wilson: enthusiastic about leverage the enthusiasm concept. All the people in the room represent communities that are inventing this new cultural process. Google is helping drive the process. Are you planning to make this useful in that way (as a model)?

Google is looking for specific ways to keep the applicant communities talking to each other. Is it an email list? A forum? A wiki? Definitely looking to Open Source, create white papers and best practices from what they do so that others can benefit.

David Olsen from Portland: what type of testbed environment? Also thanks for what Google has done to raise consciousness of cities about significance of broadband.

Urban vs rural: not sure whether it will be 1, 2, 3, 4 communities. Might be in different communities, or neighborhoods or subsets of a community. Will probably be looking for more than one community, with differences. Probably a mix.

David Weinberger wonders how raw the data Google outputs about the project will be, and how immediate. Google hopes to satisfy with the amount of data, and immediacy. Google will be responsive to feedback, so people can let them know whether they’re providing enough info.

Marc Canter brings up political issues around municipalities providing pipes. Have they heard from AT&T and Comcast, etc.?

Google is definitely inviting the other providers to use their pipes. There’s plenty of room in the broadband space, and no one company has a monopoly on innovation. Discussions are ongoing about partnerships.

How open is open? What rules will there be?

Google will advocate policies around net neutrality, e.g. no content discrimination.

Garrett Conrad asks about leveraging Google’s apps vs apps the community might come up with?

The community aspect will be key, crucial. It would be wrong for Google to tell the community what they need… will be listening, but will also be prepared to offer guidance and applications.

Leslie Nulty asks what is the business structure concept that lies behind this? It’s not completely clear. Appears that Google intends to build, own, and operate these networks – become a monopoly provider. What are the checks and balances? Will Google become an unregulated monopoly?

Some will be the published, openness principles Google will be expect to be held to. Not a monopoly. Will offer reselling opportunities.

Canter: if you’re open, it’s not a monopoly.

The openness is of the service offering on top of our pipe. We’re not trying to force people into using Google apps.

Google does plan to build, own, and operate these networks in trial communities.

Nulty: price is the question for any community that might want to partner with Google.

Services will be competitively priced. Will negotiate with the municipalities on a contract that both think is fair. Google will be as transparent as they can be, and if there’s somethng they’re missing, let them know.

State regulations preventing broadband a barrier? Google wants to learn more about regulations and policies. Ask communities to explain regulatory barriers for their specific communities as part of RFI response.

Chris: Communities United for Broadband on Facebook.

Nancy Guerrera (sp?). Wants to know what it’s like working with local communities. Refers to previous project in San Francisco to set up muni wifi. Ended up building in Mountain View after discussions with SF didn’t work out. Google learned from this, though each community is different.

Will Google’s transparency extend to documenting issues/discussions with policy organizations?

Yes, if the press doesn’t document for us, we’ll do our best to document legal and regulatory barriers we encounter.

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Keep it simple

Just learned via Twitter from someone who reads my blog that text instances of the Sociable social bookmarking links were piled up at the end of each of my posts as displayed in Google Reader. That’s nust not very poetic. Does anybody ever actually click through one of those bookmarking icons or links? I’m not convinced.

I turned all of that stuff off, as well as the Zemanta tracking pixel added to my posts via Scribefire. The web’s complicated enough; I’m making my presence as simple as possible and focusing on producing great content.

(If you’re reading this on Google Reader or some other news aggregator, and you still see something wonky, just let me know.)

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Obligatory comment about Google Buzzzzz

I feel obligated to post about Google Buzz, as a social technology evangelist and follower of all things Google. It’s another way to post drive-by messages in random activity streams, conveniently integrated with  Gmail. If you don’t use Gmail, and especially if you’re already feeling deluged, this probably isn’t for you. I don’t think it’s a Facebook killer or Twitter killer – it’s just another example of Google acknowledging and implementing a communication pattern that many people find useful. It’s also another step toward the Google singularity, i.e. the plausible future wherein all the Google collaborative tools-in-development are integrated in a more seamless way. The great Google pie is still in the oven, and we find ourselves dipping our fingers into it – it’s very hot.

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The impact of “social” on organizations

Austin’s Dachis Group talks about social business design, defined as “the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture. The goal: improving value exchange among constituents.” I find the Dachis overview (pdf) interesting, if a bit scattered. David Armistead and I at Social Web Strategies had been having conceptually similar conversations for the last couple of years, looking at the potential culture change associated with social technology and new media (with Craig Clark), the need for business process re-engineering (with Charles Knickerbocker), and the power of value networks. This morning while sitting on my zafu, I had a flash of insight that I quickly wrote down as five thoughts that came to me pretty much at once…

  1. Organizations are already using software internally and have been for some time – email lists, groupware and internal forums, various Sharepoint constructions, aspects of Basecamp, internal wikis and blogs, etc. What’s changed? I think a key difference is high adoption outside work – more and more of the employees of a company or nonprofit are having lifestyle experiences with Facebook Twitter, YouTube, Flickr et al. The way we’re using social media changes as more of us use it (network effect) and our uses become more diverse.
  2. Organizations see knowledge management as storage, basically, but we can see the potential to capture and use knowledge in new and innovative ways, e.g. using multimodal systems (Google Wave, for example) to capture and sort knowledge as it’s created, with annotations and some sense of the creative process stored with its product – knowing more about how knowledge is produced improves our sense of its applicability. (It’s exciting to be a librarian/information specialist these days.)
  3. Organizations will increasingly have to consider the balance of competition and cooperation with internal teams. I’ve seen firsthand how a culture of competition can stifle creativity by creating a disincentive to share knowledge. I’m thinking we’ll see more “coopetition.”
  4. Who are the internal champions within an organization? There will be more interest at the C-level as social technology is better understood and success stories emerge from early adopters. It would be interesting to know what current champions of social media are seeing and what they’re saying. Also – how much of the move toward “social” will come from the bottom up, and how will that flow of new thinking occur?
  5. How does the new world of social business (design) relate to marketing? Operations? Human resources? To what extent to the lines between departments blur? How will the blurring of the lines and potential cross pollination transform business disciplines?

A final thought: all the minds in your organization have a perspective on your business, and each perspective is potentially valuable. How do you capture that value? Do you have a culture that can support a real alignment of minds/perspectives/intentions?

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Haiti: Person Finder

The “Katrina People Finder” technology has been updated by Ka-Ping Yee at Google, and placed online. It’s embedded at the State Department’s web site. Not sure why they changed it to “Person Finder,” but it’s simple, easy to use, and has two components: a search, if you’re looking for someone who’s lost, and a way to report information about someone that’s found, confirmed dead, etc.

I’m embedding it here, as well: