Category Archives: google

Circle overload and the trouble with Google+

Google+ is about 1 week old and people are already posting stuff like “G+ for noobies guides“. I, for some reason, find this hilarious. On the other hand, I’m already starting to struggle with this wünder-socialnet myself.

The big problem right now is friend management. Google has this concept of circles. It’s based on this insight that people do have different sorts of friend relationships and that these relationships so perfectly modeled by the existing services like facebook, twitter, linkedin. There’s also, what seems at first, like a great drag/drop UX for managing G+ circles.

But there’s several problems with google+ circles.

  1. It’s labor intensive. You can’t just add somebody and be done with it, you have to cognitively evaluate what circles(s) each and every contacts of yours belong in, you then have drag each of them in there.
  2. Real world friend circles have fuzzy edges. Real human relationships don’t fit cleanly into one circle or another. And as an author, you can’t necessarily predict who will or won’t be interested in your musings. Is it really so easy to define who is a “friend” and who is an “acquaintance”? Does it often not depend on context?
  3. Just trying to remember who’s in what circle. Sadly, I’ve already lost track of who I have and haven’t added yet and to which circles. For better or worse, I have thousands of contacts on each of gmail, twitter and linkedin etc. So far I’ve added at least a few hundred to G+. As a result, I’ve already blown past my mental dunbar number of keeping track of who’ve I’ve added and who I haven’t to which circles etc. Every day I wake up and to another notice that x dozen new people have added me on Google+. I love you for following me, but fuck me if I can remember I’ve added you yet or not.At least with other social networks it’s a binary relationship. You’ve either added someone already or you haven’t. Here the current google UX falls down because it’s never clear from their suggestions of users if you already added these people once before or not.
  4. Scaleability and friend overload All of these problems with Google+ are exacerbated by the number of contacts you have online. Categorizing a few close friends isn’t too hard, categorizing a few thousand is an incredible chore. Google either needs to do a better job in the UX of bulk managing contacts, or we’ve got to just say fuck-it and blindly refollow absolutely everyone in one giant circle (essentially defeating the purpose of circles).

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like google+ to work out. I just don’t know if they’ve got the magic formula yet, particularity when it comes to have any more than a few connections. What does inspire me though is that g+ circles could rather work really much better in an enterprise context. In an enterprise context, circles are a lot easier to define, between teams, extended teams, communities of expertise etc. I’ve been waiting a long time for a decent realtime social sharing app for the enterprise and G+ might just have the right DNA for it.

Sadly though, for personal use, one week in and I’m almost ready to declare friend bankrupcy on google+. I just can’t find the time to keep up with the influx of people to the service.

If you’ve got any good tips for this G+ noob please do let me know.

Meanwhile, you are welcome to find me on google+ here. Do go ahead add me to your cuddliest inner circles.

photo credit: Andrew Kuo

Things you can learn from Google on how to redesign your industry for the web

Have you ever heard Google’s [VP of Product Design] Marissa Mayer talk about product design? Great stuff. From a recent interview with Michael Arrington at this year’s Le Web. Pay attention to this question (about 12min in) about google news and redesigning journalism.

If we invented news today as a delivery channel for journalism, through the web from scratch, what would that look like? and we like to ask questions like that, what would [ a product google wave, google news] look like if you invented it from scratch for the web. I think it would look very different.

Of course this the right question to be asking. Asking this question is how google manages to disruptively up-end industry after industry on the web with products that are actually pretty simple but work just-right for the web. But so often we don’t.

In the real world it’s not what I hear often enough from companies or industries looking to make the jump to the web, or to social media, to mobile or [insert disruptive new channel of moment here].

What I hear most often is, how can we take all our existing business model and dump ourselves unceremoniously on this channel. Or, lets think of how we keep on doing what were doing but sprinkle some of that magic web/mobile/social pixie dust on things and call it a day.

Which is fine, I suppose, if you want a quick win you can sell your boss today, and if you don’t mind if google/amzon/apple/netflix/some startup/file sharing/the-web-in-general might completely blows up your whole industry sometime tomorrow afternoon.

But if you don’t want to get steamrolled, what Marissa is asking you to think about, and really think hard about is this:

Ask not how your business fits on the web, ask instead, if your business were really made for the web, what business would you be in?

And a moment later gem:

I basically think whenever a media changes over to a new delivery vehicle, it puts pressure on the atomic unit of consumption. It happened with iTunes with the album moving to the song. It happened with YouTube with long-form standards of video to short-form. Now it’s happening with news. People can come in and read one story from the source and then move on. That’s the atomic unit.

When music went to a web there was much consternation that people would buy singles instead of albums. When newspapers go to the web editors are shocked that surfers want to read articles, not sections, not whole bundles of sections.

But this is a great insight. When the medium changes so does the atomic unit of consumption. There are certain economies of scope and scale when bundling a whole bunch of more/less unrelated newspaper sections into one printed package, delivered with one swing of the arm of the paper boy. And from a demand perspective, there’s effective cross correlation of demand, someone in the household will buy the weekend paper for the sports, someone else for the style section. In the totally personalized digital world, that kind of paper-world content-bundling doesn’t make any sense.

When it comes to a new medium you can either let these behaviour changes surprise you, or think of how to take advantage.

For example, atomicity can work both ways. I could see a shift of atomic unit (book) to a bundle (this book and others by this same author) being a win for e-book publishing. When you don’t have to print it, and when shelf space isn’t limited why not generate all sorts of bundle offers. Chances are if I want to read an author, I might want to read all of that author’s books. In the digital space, a publisher that does this really well is Valve the video game publisher. Their orange box being a famous and spectacularly successful example of bundling a hot current title for, just a little bit more, a whole pile of new and old content from the archives. When it’s all digital, it can be just as easy carry home an armload as a single item from the store.

Design neutrality and why Google Chrome rocks

Last week, I gave Microsoft’s new browser a shake, now it’s time to look at the competition. There is a lot else to like about Google’s new browser. But this, this is my favorite feature:


Why does (almost) every product google touches, feel so refreshingly natural to use? A significant part of their competitive advantage comes from an enormous, if invisible, effort of design restraint.

Not trying to make your product always the centre of attention, getting the hell out of the user’s way, is a product design decision that many of us could learn from. And it’s a lesson than certain OS makers, for example (here’s looking at you Redmond & Cupertino, can continue to ignore at their peril.

The design principle of neutrality doesn’t mean less features (Under the hood, Chrome is pretty feature rich for a first generation browser). Just not pestering users with popups they can’t understand, not painting window wrappers and task bars in garish and distracting colors is a good start.

Most of the products we build are tools, they are a means for the user not an end. In most ways good usability is all about reducing all sources of mechanical, perceptual and cognitive friction. If you can get a design to a point where users can instinctively ignore it, that probably means you are doing a good job.

For this an other reasons (also notable the wonderful built-in tab/task manager), Google chrome is now the main browser on our home pc.

You can get google chrome here. (windows only at this point)

previously on design neutrality on

link: Google Chrome explanatory cartoon (it’s a great read)

Do androids dream of electric pants?

Thanks to Open Gardens for pointing this out. Two good vids on youtube demoing googles new mobile phone operating system/software platform called android.

The first video features Sergey Brin himself introducing some of the things android can do. (which are pretty cool)

As for the second video, I don’t even know what’s more interesting, the fact you can build somewhat-nifty geolocative games on the platform in a jiffy, or, that software CEOs in California don’t even bother to wear pants anymore.

judge for yourself: Cool Android SDK videos .. – OpenGardens

previously on The G-Phone Stirreth

Social Network Portability Has Arrived

Google has launched it’s Open API for Social Networks. It’s about time someone did this.

This explains why the goog wanted so badly a piece of facebook. And why Microsoft would pay at any wacky valuation for FB to keep it out of teh google. Facebook is the singular major social network not participating in google’s new scheme.

At the same time though, it cuts out at the knees the fundamental (would be) game-changing advantage of the facebook platform: the idea that someone should be able to build a social app or someone should be able to use a social app without the redundancy of setting up a new profile page, another buddy list, another messaging and comment system etc. (not to mention the viral adoption and network effect advantages that have made some facebook apps the most rapidly adopted software apps ever).

Meanwhile at long last, Google combats microsoft with it’s own operating system… a social operating system for the new web.


see also recently: Albert Lai’s great deck on Web 2.5, 3.0 and social operating systems
Jevon’s insightful post on Startup North: Delusions of Facebook – Should you be a Facebook Startup?

The G-phone stirreth

Google said to be shipping 50,000 Gphones by year’s end. A UBS analyst is rumored to have information that HTC, a Taiwanese handset manufacturer, will ship about 50,000 cell phones made for Google by the end of
the year. “These initial phones are not going to be for sale, says Benjamin Schachter, at UBS. “These are going to be available for developers only to understand how the software works.” LG (LPL) is also said to be a possible manufacturier.

more on

I bet the Gphone would work really well on some Google Spectrum.