The path to success for Google+

On Google+ I stumbled upon an interesting theory by Nova Spivack about how the social media landscape will look like. He argues that Google+ is a very different service from Twitter and Facebook and that the social media landscape is going to divide in different territories. Facebook is for social networking, LinkedIn is for business networking, Google+ is for knowledge sharing and Twitter is for notifications, so it goes. I concur with his thoughts, but contemplating it over, I feel that Google+ is a sort of hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, just like Mark Cahill points out. It seems to balance both a social network and an (organised) information network. It organises information but also includes communication and collaboration (e.g., Hangouts and Sparks).

So could Google+ take over both Twitter and Facebook? Maybe. One of the reasons people are on Facebook is because of media sharing. Facebook is the largest photo sharing website, although it might not be the best one. They have consumers who might never going to adopt Google+: your close friends and family. However, as also Nova Spivack says, “if G+ integrates tightly with YouTube they could have an advantage at least in the video sharing category. However, that would be a strange mix: G+ is not really designed for the same use case as Facebook. Facebook is for public sharing while G+ is actually the opposite of that. It doesn’t even really let you push something to the Public, only to people who follow you (circles). If you share something with Public in G+ it does not get pushed to the public, but they can find it on your profile if they ever want to search you. Quite the opposite of YouTube, where every video is public and that’s the whole point of posting something to YouTube”. In the end, the real name of the game is going to be user-experience.

I think the real name of the game is going to be user-experience. Who is going to make a place that feels most like “home” to consumers? I don’t think it’s going to be Google. They haven’t succeeded at this yet. They may have better features, better sharing etc., but the user-experience feels like I’m in George Lucas’s THX 1138.

Google+ (and all of Google) is just so clean and white – too clean. Like a formal living room with white rugs or white furniture, where kids and pets are specifically not supposed to play.

Google+ feels more like my office than my home, if you know what I mean. It’s not personal enough. It doesn’t let me express who I am other than through typing and attaching pictures. I need to be able to skin it, to format it, to change the layout — like I can do on my blog, or a home page, before I would really think of it as my home.

Facebook hasn’t done much in the way of allowing user skins or customization either. But at least it’s a bit messy — it doesn’t feel so planned out. Google+ didn’t grow organically like Facebook, it was hatched all once from a test tube.

The messiness of Facebook’s user experience may, paradoxically, be what keeps people there. It feels less formal. Less official, less serious. It’s a place to relax, not to think deep thoughts.

My guess is people will rather hang out and relax in a place that is more like a bar than a Mensa convention.

As William Gibson once put it on Twitter:

I was never interested in Facebook or MySpace because the environment seemed too top-down mediated. They feel like malls to me. But Twitter actually feels like the street. You can bump into anybody on Twitter.

Well, considering that Google+ is a hybrid, the path to success for them is to be a best of breed by maybe trying to be like an outdoor market or grand bazaar. For instance, I think they should allow us to use nicknames or anonymous accounts, but also allow us to identify ourselves (e.g., verified accounts). Which makes me wonder: can such contrary ideas exist together in one system?

At first, I thought of G+ as kind of a new Friendfeed. It all looks awfully similar. But when you look at the user base, you see that it is much more democratized. It is not just about early adopters and technorati. It seems to gain traction easily. In a way, G+ is Facebook and Twitter in a sense as it has the same features and capabilities. But when I hear people saying that G+ is much easier for photo sharing, that it emphasizes privacy issues and that it obliterates the need of friending, than I think there is a big chance for them to win the game. A better user experience, together with tight integration with other Google products (gmail, calendar, et cetera) will benefit the user. Google+ can only succeed in replacing Facebook, if we can port our data to Google+. I bet that is not going to be happening and that Google+ is just going to be a Facebook alternative.

Making good predictions

In his book What the dog saw: and other adventures, prolific writer and thinker Malcolm Gladwell devotes an entire part to theories, predictions and diagnoses. Predicting something accurately isn’t always easy. Gladwell explains this by touching on the difference between puzzles and mysteries. This idea originates from Gregory Treverton, an authority in the field of intelligence, terrorism and US national security. Puzzles are questions with answers. Usually we cannot solve them straightaway because we have too little information available, or we miss the most crucial information. In order to solve the puzzle, we must gather more information. Mysteries, in contrary, deal with situations where we have an abundance of information available. No one really has the answer. If we want to solve mysteries, we need to come up with judgements and estimates. It therefore requires a different approach and skill set to solve these kind of problems.

Treverton suggests that we need to think of puzzles as facts and mysteries as intentions, so that we can see how one could design systems to discover near-infinite amounts of facts while still being unable to discern a target’s intentions from those facts. I believe that we always need to keep this difference in mind. In fact, it is a good framework to think in the area of  Service Management where I am currently working in. When a client files a ticket, in some cases it might be very hard to make a prediction in terms of incident diagnosis, how fast it can be resolved, setting the right expectations et cetera. Even detecting or replicating an issue might take more time than initially thought of. Sometimes you are sifting through a heap of information (i.e., a mystery) and as a result you are looking in the complete wrong direction.

Who is needed is someone who is able to make good (read: not correct)judgements, be it by experience or through applying heuristics or theory. For instance,  sometimes it is better to classify a scenario immediately as a problem in order not to miss the Service Level Agreement and not waste team in trying to understand the issue in more detail and trying to understand the root cause.

Another point is that you need to be able to ask the right questions and prioritize in terms of urgency. People on the ground or in the field, closest to the technology, are to gather the evidence, but it is equally important to verify and review information accurateness. What I think is key in this story is that information should be able to spread and connect freely throughout the intelligence gathering. However, in order to make good estimates and judgements, ask the right questions and so fort, a system should be designed with the outcome in mind. For instance, if you already think of how many customers, suppliers, orders and parts there can possibly exist, you can make better decisions upfront of how to display them in your information systems. You also need to be able to classify things in mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive categories and use these as your map.

To end with, I believe a good policy maker is one who understands the global picture and see how if fits with other processes. He has to see through the intelligence process, has to be well-informed, vastly experienced, and constantly be thoughtful enough to make things better.

Facebook Social Engineering

Yesterday I ran into a very clever and sophisticated attempt to install a virus on my machine.

What is more interesting though is that it all happened on Facebook.

At random a friend starts talking to you. It goes like this:

Hi. how are you?

Good, I’m fine, you think by yourself. That’s what you respond.

A bit later:

good. Wanna laugh? :)

Who doesn’t like a good laugh?

It is you on the video ?)) want to see?

Here’s where he grabs your attention. You are wondering what this possibly could be about. A funny Internet video? Your drunk video got leaked? You are curious and can’t wait for what’s next.

Then he responds with a link in the form of an IP address:
http://77.121.207.151/742349842

This redirects you to a page that exactly looks like YouTube. However, the path carries your Facebook user ID as well. It’s a Facebook plugin!

There you will see a YouTube video with comments of your friends who make fun of you. They are pulling your leg.

Then you think: wow, this is cool! You actually believe that there should be a video as well.

Now the catch here is that you cannot see the video. There is however a link to install the latest Flash Player.

Bam! There you have it. I didn’t install it, don’t know the specifics, but I bet it’s an executable containing malware and spyware.

If you install it, it will takeover your Facebook account and replicate itself.

All very cunningly social engineering I must say. I remember the same would happen on other instant messengers such as MSN and Yahoo Messenger. This is not new. But now that chat and moreover the social layer is part of the Web, attacks are much more advanced and it all becomes eerily sophisticated.  Maybe another reason to thrust the diaspora to Google+, a safe harbor to stay in the meantime.

Please re-share this and be alerted. Do not fall for this trickery.

Dutch pancakes

This weekend I went to Nijmegen and happened to try out my very first real Dutch pancake in ‘t Hoogstraatje.

The simple guy in me likes to call it a Dutch pizza, as a pancake to me is all about sweetness, sugar and syrup. And in fact, it does taste similar to pizza!

Quite remarkable though that I didn’t try this before.

Conclusion: highly recommended and a tip for your cuisine!

I picked one with bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms. Delicious.

In het MAS

Vandaag weer een ervaring rijker: ik ben naar het MAS geweest. Je maakt er kennis met Antwerpen, een stad aan de stroom en de haven. De stad waar ik heb gestudeerd en dus wel wat mee heb. Vanuit vier thema’s wordt de verbondenheid van Antwerpen met de wereld verteld: machtsvertoon, wereldstad, wereldhaven en leven en dood. Ook worden er duizenden objecten tentoongesteld in een depot dat je een kijk geeft achter de schermen. Het is allemaal best wel indrukwekkend moet ik zeggen. Een aanrader!