Tag Archives: Jaiku

Google’s Missteps

By Jeremy Wagstaff

This one needed some correcting, for which apologies, and also, unsurprisingly, attracted some opprobrium. It’s Google Notebook, not Notes, and Jaiku’s founders are Finnish, not Swedish.

I’m a big fan of Google. A big fan. But I’ve finally realized what its problem is. It doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing.

Take its recent decision to close something called Google Wave.

Google Wave was introduced to much fanfare back in May 2009. I can’t really describe what it is, but I can tell you what Google called it. Email killer, a new version of the web, etc etc. “Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today,” said one of its creators.

Then, a few weeks back, they killed it. CEO Eric Schmidt said: “We liked the (user interface) and we liked a lot of the new features in it,” he was quoted as saying,  “(but) didn’t get enough traction, so we are taking those technologies and applying them to new technologies that are not announced.”

Schmidt explained Google’s policy like this: “Our policy is we try things. We celebrate our failures. This is a company where it is absolutely OK to try something that is very hard, have it not be successful, take the learning and apply it to something new.”

The point is not that Wave was rubbish. Or great. It’s that we never really got to try it out. When Schmidt says that “we tend to sort of release them and then see what happens” he’s telling the truth. Only it’s not really something he should be too proud about.

Quite a few of us worked quite hard to make Wave part of our lives. Not many of us, admittedly, but enough. Enough to be somewhat peeved to find it’s not going to be around much longer.

This isn’t the first time Google has done this. Google Notes Notebook was a way to collect snippets from the web and save them in the browser. Great, but Google killed that one off. They bought and killed off something called Jaiku, a better-than-Twitter service developed by some guys in Sweden Finland (thanks, Gabe,Adewale Oshineye and others). Of course, like Wave, they don’t actually shoot these things dead, they just go to some weird twilight zone where new people can’t sign up and existing users look kinda passé.

Like people who overstay a party that never really took off.

Who’s going to continue using a product that could disappear at any minute?

This, arguably, is fine when you’re not actually paying for the product. Well, not directly. But what happens when you shell out $500 for it?

That’s what happened when fools bought into Google’s foray into the cellphone world with their fancy Nexus One phone. What it called the Superphone, with plans to make lots more. “Imagine a thousand gphones!” said Schmidt

So people went out and bought it and yay! less than a year later Google closes down the online store where you can buy the thing and then, a few weeks after that, said that it’s not making any more phones.

Of course, Mr. Schmidt put a positive spin on it all.

But it’s not good enough.

I was one of those people who bought the phone because I love Google’s email service, its photo service, its online documents service, its RSS reader, its chat program, its maps. Its search engine. Pretty much everything it puts out. And I thought to myself: all this in a phone, made by the same guys, it’ll be heaven!

Only it wasn’t. The phone is good, but not great. I still use it, but my hope was that Google would be serious about all its products and pulling them together into one seamless service.

Never happened. And now, clearly, never will. Yes, Google make the operating system—the Android OS—so they still have a dog in the fight, but clearly they’ve decided that spending more time on the cellphone thing isn’t worth it for them.

Now these are the gripes of someone who feels a bit like a mug. But they’re also the ramblings of someone who feels there’s a fundamental problem with Google’s approach to the post-search world.

They don’t seem to get it. Buzz, their version of Twitter, is awful. It ignores the fundamentals of the service: it’s personal while also being impersonal, it’s chatty while at the same time having to be succinct. It’s not the same as email, and the people we share tweets with are not, necessarily, the people we email. So putting it together with Gmail was dumb.

Google has got to tread carefully. It’s not really had a hit for a while—since Gmail, probably, back in 2004. Yes, its Google Docs are good, but they’re not taking over the world. And the things they thought might take over the world—such as Wave—are poorly thought out, poorly promoted, poorly supported, and killed off with an insouciance that doesn’t only upset those people like me who took time and effort to build them into our workflow. It’ll also upset two other key groups: business users and investors.

No business user is going to start playing around with a Google product thinking it might be good for their company, because who knows when Mr.. Schmidt is going to pull out his hunting knife? And investors? Well, we’ve seen plenty of tech behemoths who were one- or two-hit wonders.

It’s not time up yet for Google. They’ve just launched a sort of phone service that could be a Skype killer, but who’s going to ditch Skype in their office for something that might not be around in a year’s time? They not only need to come up with good new products. They need to find ways to convince their users they’re not just playthings, given and taken back on a whim.

The Big Chill Hits Google

So is Google, like, the new Yahoo?

Google is closing some of its services, or at least no longer supporting them. Which for me is a tad sad, since I’ve always loved prodding around inside the Googleplex, convinced that one day all these disparate services would come together in the same way Google Docs, Calendar and Gmail have. I thought Chrome would be the centerpiece of all this. Now, maybe not.

But no. Jaiku is now open source, meaning it’s not going to become Google’s competitor to twitter or anything like that. For me Jaiku had tons of potential because it seemed to understand that many of us work from our cellphone as much as our laptop. Anyway, it’s not going to happen.

Google Notebook is also on the deathlist. Another shame: While I never used it as much as I should have done, I have been busy divining a catch-all answer to everything, and the Notebook app, and its Firefox extension, was a key part of it. Google has said it’s no longer supporting it, but existing users will be able to continue to add and access their material.

The other thing they’re dumping is Google Video. It always took a back seat to Youtube, but for me that was a good thing. No inane comments, and no restrictions on file size. The result was a mostly classy collection of videos. Gone.

So what should we use instead?  Well much of what you do in Google Notebooks could as easily be done in Evernote, while others recommend Zoho Notebook. Jaiku? Well, Facebook and twitter, and I guess FriendFeed, have already moved into the space that Jaiku looked so likely to dominate, once upon a time.

I feel sorry for the guys who started Jaiku. They were an impressive and fun bunch, when you could understand them. I hope they walked away with a decent stash.

The Revolution That Keeps, Well, Revolving

It’s interesting to watch how quickly our Web 2.0 tools are changing, changing us, changing the way we communicate, and being changed by us. And how each step feels like a revolution, and yet, usually, isn’t.

The latest thing is Twitter 2.0, as I would call it. Nothing has actually changed in the software, but the way people are using it has. What was originally a presence and status tool has become a communication, networking, information delivery and spamming tool. And it’s creating its own unique problems–which probably aren’t that unique, if you stand back from them–and now, its own rules.

Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations, is the first I’ve noticed who is trying to wrestle with the new realities.

He starts out:

I’m a passionate about Twitter.  I spend more time in on it than in any other social media venue.  Twitter has been good to me.  It is the source of leads for my text and video blogs, not to mention several very nice consulting and speaking offers.

This has created what Shel calls “the most up close and personal of social media”. Shel uses Twitter as a place to communicate with fellow twitterers and meet new people within a “small neighborhood, one where it’s safe to speak out, where strangers are scrutinized by locals this all happens at a certain easygoing pace.”

But then he goes on to talk about the “new wave of adopters coming in”. I suspect we’ve all noticed this: legions of “followers” who add your twitter feed (“tweets”) to their list. The worry is that now the conversation Shel was having with his small neighborhood is being listened to by a legion of outsiders who may or may not be anonymous.

Twitter, it should be pointed out, allows various options: You can be private, or you can allow anyone to follow your tweets, or you can vet who follows you. If someone follows you, it kind of behoves you to check out their tweets, if not to actually follow them, then at least to get a sense about whether the person following you is the sort of person you want to have following you.

Shel has come up with what he calls his “Twitter Follow Policy:”

  • If I do not know who you are, or what you look like, or where you are coming from I will not follow you.
  • With very few exceptions, I will not follow brands, candidates, causes or company names. I wish to talk with humans, not brand icons, neither surveys nor bots. If you are a real person & you are passionate about your work, then I embrace you. If you are a Direct Marketer using Twitter to push you brand into my forehead, I will block you.
  • Even if you are a real person, I may not follow you. I need to see that you are talking either about topics or people I care about.
  • If you disagree with me, do it under your own name and I will respect you. If you personally insult me, I will block you. If you are consistently unpleasant or just boring, I will unfollow or block you.
  • With extremely rare exception, I will not follow anonymous Tweeters.

Wise stuff. But as some of the commenters on his blog post point out, people use Twitter for different reasons. Not everyone follows Shel (or to a much more modest extent, me) because they want a conversation with me. I don’t follow others for the conversation, necessarily. Many people don’t want to be followed, just like many people read blogs but don’t necessarily blog.

The problem here is that Twitter is a great tool that has already broken out of the constraints of its creators’ imagination. But now it’s created uses that may conflict with each other and create fresh problems, such as those experienced by Shel who see the informal networks with fuzzy but distinct ‘village limits’ undermined by outsiders who don’t know the ‘rules.’

I applaud the new lease of life that Twitter has been given with this new kind of usage. In some ways it is a striking counterbalance to what I believe is the failure of Facebook to evolve beyond the huge surge of a few months back; I’ve noticed that usage in my little world have fallen off quite dramatically since the beginning of the year. Facebook will eventually become a sort of ‘profile cemetry’ unless these users are convinced it represents more than a novelty ‘old friend discovery’ tool.

Twitter has stepped into the gap left here by the declining appeal, and lack of direct communication that presence tools offer (Jaiku et al) and the walled-garden, asynchronoous web page to web page/email world of Facebook. Twitter, via delivery mechanisms like Google Talk, have colonised a space that is “instant messaging with social characteristics.”

Shel’s approach is a smart one. Though I wonder how many of these kinds of policies we’ll have to come up with as the landscape continues to evolve.

Global Neighbourhoods: My Twitter Follow Policy

Directory of Lifestreaming

I probably should lump all these into the Directory of Attention, but I’m not going to.

Don’t look for a definition of lifestreams on Wikipedia, because it will take you to a Final Fantasy VII page. The term actually goes back to at least 1997, when Eric Freeman and David Gelernter saw it “as a network-centric replacement for the desktop metaphor. As their project page (last updated in 2000) at Yale put it:

A lifestream is a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life; every document you create and every document other people send you is stored in your lifestream.

They in turn say they got it from David Gelernter’s “chronicle streams.” Web 2.0 has picked up the ball and run with it, redefining it on the way. As Mark Krynsky, creator of the Lifestreamblog points out, the lifestream is now called lots of different things:

The blog defines the lifestream thus: “In its simplest form it’s a chronological aggregated view of your online activities.” I wouldn’t quarrel with that, although of course it’s no longer purely about online activities. Indeed, Jaiku and Twitter have made it easy, indeed desirable, to add more data to your stream than just the when, including

  • where (location via Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS)
  • how (how updating: via SMS? GPS? web?)
  • what (you’re feeling/ doing/ eating/ listening to/ watching/ using/ reading/ browsing/ writing/ photographing/ commenting on)
  • with (other people, things, animals, tools/equipment)
  • while (listening to music etc)

Tools to build lifestreams: There’s a great list here, again, from the excellent lifestreamblog. Basically they can be divided into the meta data that is added without your input and that which you consciously enter (upload photos, adding data, commentary via Twitter etc).

To those I’d add a few more:

Needless to say, the only services that survive will be those that

  • can easily import and export all kinds of streams
  • add a little something more than just gathering together streams
  • work on all platforms, at the computer and away from it

More suggestions etc welcome.

Software’s Opportunity Cost

I’ve never seen this properly studied, and only rarely taken into account by software developers: the opportunity cost of committing to one service or program over another. In a word: Why is it software that’s in charge, not the data itself?

An obvious one is Twitter vs Jaiku. Which one to embrace? Jaiku actually has more features in a way than Twitter, but more people are on Twitter. And, perversely, because one of Jaiku’s features is being able to easily include your Twitter stream into Jaiku, it makes more sense to stick with Twitter as your main presence/communication service, since those updates will automatically feed into Jaiku. Jaiku loses out because it’s better.

But usually it’s a starker choice: choose one program or service over another, and you’ll find it harder and harder to reverse engines and try another. I’ve had two versions of this blog going, one on TypePad and one on WordPress, because I can’t decide which is the better service. It’s a lousy solution and often ends up confusing people and diluting the conversation. I haven’t committed to either yet, a makeshift solution made easier by tools like BlogJet, which allow me to post to both blogs, and the import/export tools that both blogging services provide. But it’s still a dumb compromise.

Worse is the commitment one makes to software. I love PersonalBrain, but I also love mindmapping tools like Freemind. And outliners like MyInfo. I also want to explore stuff like Topicscape. ConnectedText has potential too. But because I want to use them in the real world, with a real project, I don’t want to find that by committing to one I’m foregoing using the others. But that’s inevitable. There are import and export tools available to make it easier for these kinds of about turns (or occasionally starting out in one simple program and then moving the data to something heftier when the data gets too big).

But surely there’s a better way of doing this — by making data so open that we can easily move it between programs without these hurdles? Instead of the programs being the dominant tool, they become servant to the data? A case in point: I want to look through all the blog postings I’ve written in the past five years. I want them somewhere I can see them, but also some way I can index them, and view them in different ways. I want to be able throw them at a Bayesian filter to look at the language I use, the topics I choose, the arguments I present. I want to be able to view all the data as a big mind map, or a treemap, with the categories and tags as branches. I want to be able throw them at a Wiki builder so it becomes one big Wiki without me having to do anything fiddly. I want to throw all the posts into a PersonalBrain, where the links between articles turn into links between thoughts. Then I want to throw all my emails into the mix and see what pattern they make. I want to move between all these ways of looking and manipulating my stuff without me having to worry I can’t ever go back.

In short, I don’t want to commit to one program. I want my data to be in charge, and the programs themselves conform to the data, not the other way around. Perhaps this is impossible. But why should it be?