Google makes social media interesting again

Google puts their focus on people.

I found myself wondering if Google might be the first company to actually get social media by focusing on the word social and realizing something was lacking in a big way in the world of social networks and technology generally. This was after having watched Andrew Keen’s interview about Google+ with Vic Gundotra (Google’s VP Social) and Bradley Horowitz (VP Product).

(See: Why Google Is Now A Social Company.)

Within the first ten minutes of the interview, as they gave a high level explanation of Google+, they spoke of communication and nuance. They talked about the differences between how people communicate in the real world, face to face, and how they do so online. They spoke about how they want to bridge that gap.

I don’t expect they will any time soon but the simple recognition that there is a big difference, and that online communication is a beggar’s version of real world communication, suggests a number of things, including an implicit acknowledgement that Google has made a big internal change in how they view technology and what is important. (In my last post I referred to how Google had never been a non-tech audience friendly company.)

It also suggests they have an advantage no other online company has: recognition that the time for baubles and wishful thinking is over. It’s time to acknowledge the limitations of digital technology and deliver the goods, as in a true digital model of real world communication, such as its nuances.

Consider all the senses that are in play when communicating in the real world and then consider what is available with technology: sight and sound, both of which are limited.

When I speak to someone in person I have so much more information flooding into my brain and being processed. I see their eyes, facial expressions, their body language and the full environment surrounding them that conditions all of that. I even smell them. I can touch them.

Why are they speaking so quietly? Is it because it is an intimate conversation? You might think so unless you’re able to turn around and see the two people sleeping behind you.

What happens when someone has a camera in front of him? If you’re taking a picture, they pose. In other words, they don’t present themselves; they present how they would like to be perceived.

Almost everyone behaves differently in front of a video camera – some are embarrassed, some act up and some, even professionals, become a presentation. Few people are their usual selves.

What digital communication delivers is a simulacra of the real thing. Communications involves so many things and to date technology has just scratched the surface. Communications isn’t just about exchanging messages; it’s also how those messages are presented.

Appearances to the contrary, technology around social media has been stalled for quite some time. This is partly why we spend so much time discussing the business end of it – market share, revenue models and so on. It has become pretty tedious simply following updated versions of products that add a few more doo-dads and greater capacity.

Google is the first, that I am aware of, that is talking about fundamentally changing not just social media but technology itself. That a company so engineer driven and so artifact focused would announce this kind of change in their approach – in the way they actually view technology, putting the emphasis on people and how we behave rather than the technology – is remarkable.

It also signals a fundamental shift with some absolutely amazing potential.

Suddenly, communications is interesting again.

(Thanks to Jeff Roach for directing me to the interview.)

Social media fugue – is the bloom off the rose?

вик услугиOver the last four months or so I have been using social media far less than a year ago and I wonder if social media hasn’t hit a kind of tipping point and I’ve entered into a kind of fugue state where it is concerned.

The dictionary on my computer defines fugue (second meaning) as, “… a state or period of loss of awareness of one’s identity, often coupled with flight from one’s usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.”

That’s probably a bit more extreme than is the actual case but it certainly is suggestive of how I’ve been feeling about social media recently. There are so many people using it now and so many platforms and tools that it feels like a full time job just to keep up.

I also find fewer worthwhile items when I use them and many of the people I use to follow are rarely there. I’m not sure if they are actually absent or buried under all the tweets and updates or if algorithms are affecting what I see and don’t see.

Whatever the case is, there is definitely less value in them for me.

Compounding that are the continual entries of new tools, platforms and updated tools and platforms with additional features. How do you keep up and how do you determine what is worthwhile?

I’ve been dabbling in curation as well. I find the concept great; the reality, not so much. As with all tools and platforms, they involve work. They require time to maintain or review. If you are managing the content of others, you are not managing and creating your own.

In the meantime, there is the offline world and its demands: work, finances, maintaining a house, groceries, dog and, yes, an actual life.

I would say this feeling is all just me and my specific circumstances – and that is what I thought for a long time – but I get hints and sometimes very clear statements from others echoing the same thing. They are tired of it. It is too much. They have better things to do.

I don’t agree with the “better things to do” complaint. If I didn’t find value in social media I wouldn’t use it. But I suspect the currency has been devalued, likely a result of its wild success.

Do you feel this way? Is this just a personal response specific to me or do you think social media has hit a tipping point and is losing its appeal?

Is the bloom off the rose?

Finding ideas, mind-mapping, process and chaos

Ideas in the airTwo related post subjects caught my attention last week and I’m trying to distill them here. The subjects are ideas (coming up with them) and mind-mapping. I began the post, How to find an idea (since abandoned) and also scattered a few comments on a number of blogs providing my own less than profound insight.

The more I trailed these subjects the more clear their relationship was and, despite my initial denials of having a particular process or an ability to mind-map, the more clear it was I did have a process and it was a kind of mind-mapping, albeit a chaotic one.

So this is me trying to distill and explain.

Finding ideas

I don’t find ideas, they find me. I don’t recall ever having consciously made an effort to find an idea. I have certainly been flat broke as far as ideas went and I’ve stared at either blank paper or a blank screen. But I don’t think I’ve ever gone out looking for an idea. It’s not because I have a rule about that or some distaste for it. It just never occurred to me.

To say, “I don’t find ideas, they find me,” is a cutesy little sentence and many people may have a vague sense for the accuracy of it, but it really doesn’t say anything. As with many clever sentences, it’s all style, little or no substance. So here is the substantive part that is missing. In a comment on Remarkablogger I wrote:

I think coming up with ideas has a good deal to do with state of mind, probably related to brain wave activity, and “getting away from my computer” is really about a mental reset.

I come up with ideas by walking the dog or buying groceries. Every so often I’ll write an idea down to work on later but the reality is that I rarely go back [to] it. I appear to be reactive to my environment so I’ll start scribbling about something that has been sparked by what I’ve seen online or in the news. Just as often, however, for reasons I can’t fathom, I’ll find myself thinking about something that apparently hasn’t been sparked by anything — at least not that I’m aware of.

Walking the dog.This is why I say “ideas find me.” In some sense, it is a quest for ideas since when I do something like walk the dog it will be partly because I want a mental reset so an idea might find me. (Mind you, it’s largely because the dog is threatening to destroy the house.)

Something I did not say in the quoted comment was this: in almost every case I do not know what I really think until I have written it out. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to have something to say.

Mind-mapping and process

This is where I get to the business of mind-mapping and process, process really being what mind-mapping is about. I had stated in another comment that I didn’t use mind-mapping, that whenever I tried it I failed. But as I kept thinking about it, I realized that was not true. I started thinking about process and then understood that is what is at the heart of mind-mapping. Strictly speaking, mind maps are graphical but in their essence they are about taking notes. (And notes themselves, in a way, can be considered graphical even though they are text, the traditional note taking method.)

I had confused technology (mind-mapping programs) and visual depictions like graphs, flow charts and coloured balloons with mind-mapping. They are simply tools people use. They aren’t, however, necessary to mind-mapping because mind-mapping is about process and clarity.

When I understood that, I understood that I had a process that brought me clarity. I mind-mapped without knowing it. My process is a ramshackle, chaotic amalgam of today and yesterday, technology and old school.

Often a post begins physically in a notebook with inked scribbles. Later, I transcribe it either in a Word doc or within WordPress as a draft and continue writing. Later, I print it (back to the tactile). Printed, I read it and with pen or pencil start changing it: rewriting this, cutting that, moving this thing over there. There are arrows up and arrows down, ballooned comments in the margins. I see something is missing and, turning the paper over to the blank side, I begin scribbling again.

And then I take it back to my laptop, make my corrections and transcribe what I’ve scribbled. As the process goes back and forth, the paper side fades away and it is all done on the laptop.

As tedious as all this may seem it has an element that, for me, recommends it: it works.

For me it works though not necessarily for anyone else. I’m not usually the sort of person who can just sit down and pour out words that make a coherent post without any of that back and forth. It certainly doesn’t happen for something of any length. As an example of what I do and how and why it works, as I type this on my laptop I’m preparing to print it, sit down with it and a pen, read it over and orient myself as well as make some changes.

The word orient is key. Once I’m in the flow of writing I can go off on a related tangent. I need to go back and see what it was I wanted to say and if I’ve said it or if I’ve missed something or if I’ve inserted something unrelated to it. In other words, it helps answer the question, “What the hell have I been writing about?”

Conversations

I’m finished going through that process described above and, surprisingly, I think I’ve managed to maintain some coherence and say what I wanted to. However, I also discovered that, at the heart of all this, I think I really just wanted to state how it is I work. I’m sure other people work the same way. Let me add that while it seems tiresome and time-consuming and certainly not how everyone will work, it has the virtue of ebb and flow, back and forth. It is like a conversation with myself at the end of which I not only say what I want I also know what it is I really think.

Final destination.If I may toss in one last thing on the subject of ideas, one aspect that really engages me and helps to define and inform an idea (for me) is a bit of online researching, sometimes of a simple word – like “idea.” You may have a topic, you may even know what you think you want to say, but a bit of online window-shopping of articles and blog posts can highlight aspects and details that may have escaped you. It may also show you what line of thought others are taking and that may be something you want to address, pro or con, or it may put the topic in a light you hadn’t seen it before.

In other words, it turns it into a conversation.

We sometimes think “conversation” in this context is about comments and tweets after we’ve posted. This is true, but the post itself is a product of conversation – one with ourselves as well as with the posts, articles and comments we’ve found online prior to writing it.

Note:

This lengthy ramble was prompted by posts on several blogs, including:

Many thanks!

The great digital landfill

What if bits and bytes smelled? And what if they smelled bad? And what if they had the capacity to carry viruses – no, not the email kind but biological n’er-do-wells?

Somewhere out in that vast and ill-defined world we call “digital space,” there’s a lot – and I mean a lot – of refuse. Imagine it having a physical nature, something that took up physical space like old toasters or meat that has gone bad. What if it had rats?

I don’t think I’d care for it.

I call it “The Great Digital Landfill” because that is really what much of the Internet is, just as it is much of what we keep on our computers – used and effectively worthless docs, pics, emails, programs and who knows what all else. There is no pressing need to clear any of it up because there is so much capacity (or so we suppose, if and when we think of it).

But what if it smelled bad? What if digital material had “best before” dates and, once the a date was passed, whatever that item might be it would begin to stink out the joint? I think we would likely put our minds to “cleaning up” with a bit more alacrity.

A very quick Google search reveals that “digital landfill” is not an uncommon term. Some of the material found is about the electronic trash we create and some is … well, a little odd (not unusual on the web). There are actually two aspects to this:

  • The trashed hardware (cell phones, laptops etc.)
  • The trashed content (emails, docs, pics etc.)

The first of those, hardware, is the serious one because it actually is physical and it is a very real problem. I believe I’ve seen documentaries or news reports of entire islands in Southeast Asia completely buried under technological trash, but hopefully that is just a nightmare I had due to spicy food prior to bed.

The second one, the digital content that has expired and is no longer useful, is just clutter. I sometimes wonder how search engines plough through it all. On our personal computers, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has done a search and been discouraged to find page after page of results.

I’ve even found documents on my laptop that I couldn’t remember if I had written them or someone else had.

Imagine, however, this scene. Arnold, a student, has just been called to a meeting with Professor Axel. It goes like this:

“I’ve been going over your work, Arnold, and I have a question. Did you write this?”

“Umm … yes! Yes, I did.”

“When?”

Arnold’s eyes dart side to side. “The weekend. Saturday night! Yes. And I finished it up Sunday morning.”

Professor Axel frowns. “That’s strange. Your submission has a very distinctive odor. An unpleasant one.”

“I … I … I hadn’t noticed.”

“Really? That’s strange too … since it’s stinking to high heaven! This damn thing is at least three years old!”

Poor Arnold. Caught cheating because digital material goes bad and stinks.

Yes, I think our attitudes toward all those emails in our Gmail accounts, all our stored documents, abandoned blogs, not to mention all that discarded hardware, would definitely alter if technology and the content we produced with it would just smell bad after a certain period of time.

Maybe that’s the challenge? Maybe we need to make technology that stinks.

Working from home – three caveats

We all have ideas about what working from home would be like and most of them reflect the upside of it, or at least what we imagine the upside to be. I think most would be roughly accurate so I won’t list them here.

There are a few caveats, however. I always think of three in particular. To tell you the truth, all three can be summed up in one word: people. In no particular order:

Structure

Without the presence of other people, and without a standard office environment, it’s much more difficult to impose discipline on yourself in terms of how you structure your day. Of course, to many this is not a problem. It’s part of their character. They’re naturally organized people.

It’s not the case for everyone, however. If you’re like me, you’re all over the place. You may create structure, follow a discipline and keep to it for quite a while, but eventually it goes out the window … for any of a number of reasons, the main one being it’s not a part of who you are. You need the presence of others, the interaction with others to follow a structure.

No people

And that suggests the second caveat – beware of the absence of other people. We’re social animals (no matter how anti-social you may imagine yourself to be). Without fairly frequent interaction with other people, you just plain get weird. Think Howard Hughes.

People again

Having said the above, the last caveat is people: too much of them, in a sense. Working from home, many people think of you as being always “free.” At first, you may even indulge this because it’s kind of nice being able to take some time out in the day to hang with others. But it quickly sours as you realize you’re not getting work done, or doing it late at night to catch up on the time you lost during the day.

People know you work from home, and they don’t naturally interrupt up you during the day when you’re working, but … It just doesn’t look or feel like a work environment so it somehow doesn’t quite connect. It feels casual and leisurely. It doesn’t feel like work.

It may be that dealing with the first caveat might help with the third on my list. If you can impose a disciple (up at a certain time, at the job at a certain time, dressed a certain way) you may deal with third. The idea of working at home might communicate better to others if you dress with a degree of work formality so when you answer the door, for example, you’re wearing a tie as opposed to pajamas.

As for the second one, that one in the middle about no people, what I do is simply go downtown a few times a week with my computer and work for a few hours in restaurant. After a while, you meet people and have casual conversations. More importantly, it puts you in an environment where there are other people. You don’t feel quite so reclusive.

Not everyone can do this, of course, but if you can it’s worth considering.

Maybe you shouldn’t worry about the environment

I was thinking about the one million acts of green initiative and some of the things people are doing to contribute to it and I thought, “Great idea.” Then I thought of some of the things I do and it occurred to me, in almost every case, the thought of contributing to a better environment never occurred to me. The things I do, I do for other reasons. The environmental aspect is just a serendipitous consequence.

I don’t drive. I don’t have a car. I don’t even know how to drive a car. This is not because I was determined to help heal an ailing environment, minimize my carbon imprint and so on. I just don’t like cars. They’re loud and they smell and, from what I’ve seen, they’re very expensive and a heck of a lot of work.  The balancing act between convenience and all a car’s negative aspects never worked in favour of a car. And speed was never a plus for me either. I prefer to actually see and note the world I’m moving through. (Same with boats. Sailboats, thumbs up; motorboats, thumbs down.)

Plastic bags from grocery stores – another no-brainer. Who wants a gazillion plastic bags cluttering the house, the yard, the streets and everything else? Carrying them when they have items in them turns the handles into thin plastic knives that cut into the fingers and palms of your hands – something clothe bags don’t do. (I especially like my clothe bag for the liquor store with its individual pockets for bottles of wine.) Once again, the environmental aspect is just a happy consequence. I like those bags because, in a small way, they make life better.

Turning off lights? I do that anyway because I prefer low lighting and, for as long of the day as possible, no lighting is best. For me. I ain’t saving the world here, I’m just voting for aesthetics.

There is a long list of small “acts of green” people can incorporate into their life, many of which I do, few of which I do because I was thinking about the environment. I was thinking about me. I was thinking about my life and my preference for ease. Most of these acts I do are done because they make my life better and, in many if not most cases, they’re a lot cheaper. My choices mean money in my bank account.

And what is my point? I suppose it is this: for many people, including me, when people start talking about things like acts of green, even if they are passionately behind the idea of fixing the world and eager to get started, the acts themselves have the appearance of being sacrifices. You must give up something you want; you must do something that’s a pain in the butt to do. That’s probably not the case, but that’s the perception. Inside, we’re thinking, “I’m sacrificing to help save the environment.”

So maybe you shouldn’t worry about the environment. Maybe you should think more about the consequences, other than environmental, that many of these acts lead to. Maybe those will persuade you.

Just a thought.