Many years ago, I worked at Bell Labs. Specifically, I worked on the Trunks Integrated Record Keeping System (TIRKS), It was probably around release 17.1 when I was working there. With a large complicated system that had been through many releases, there were volumes of documentation, and in the days before everything was linked together in hypertext, it could be hard to find the information that you needed.
Yet there was one person, Charlie, who had been around for perhaps as long as TIRKS had been around. If you ever needed to know something, your best bet was to find Charlie and ask him. Now this was nearly thirty years ago, so my memories may be not exact, but I remember Charlie as an aging, kindly old curmudgeon. Ever since those days, I’ve always thought the best documentation to any system was Charlie. Such a system had processed all the documentation and had an advanced natural language processing system that picked up so much nuance, that it would know what you were looking for, even when you didn’t yet know it.
Recently, I wrote about Social Fortress and XeeMe. Soon afterwards, I received an email from Adam Ghetti, one of the co-founders of Social Fortress. He went into considerable detail about how Social Fortress currently works and talked about coming enhancements. With that, he asked for suggestions about the forth coming enhancements. Adam struck me as the 21st century instance of Charlie. Beyond the quick access to information about the product, there was a component of marketing and community building. My opinion about Social Fortress became much greater as a result of the interaction.
Over on XeeMe, Axel Schultze, their CEO sent me a message on Twitter about my blog post. It simply said, “Thanks for mentioning #XeeMe Aldon. The key is probably under the hood when you start with Flights etc.” Much less detailed than Adam’s response, but still reflecting that 21st century version of Charlie, providing pointers to documentation mixed with some marketing and community building. I haven’t started looking closely at Flights yet, but I will look more closely at XeeMe, and particularly Flights as a response of Axel’s response. Like my opinion of Social Fortress, the interaction improved my opinion about XeeMe.
I suspect that Charlie has been retired for ages, but the spirit of Charlie continues on in people like Adam and Axel and it makes technology more enjoyable.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been kicking around a few new sites that have recently popped up, and I thought I’d share some quick reactions:
One site is XeeMe. It provides yet another place to list all of the social networks you are part of, sort of like ReTaggr and DandyId. I’ve always liked DandyId best because of its API, although I never really ended up doing a lot with either of them. XeeMe also has some sort of contact management that might prove interesting, but it is taking a while to load my data and I’m not finding many of the people I know on XeeMe, so I haven’t found a real use for it yet. It also has a microcredit system and a raft of apps. I’ll kick it around a bit more later, probably.
Next up, Social Fortress. Basically, what this does is it encrypts your posts to social websites and emails. Encryption is done on the local machine making it much more difficult for others to snoop. It is easy to set up and use, running as a plugin to Chrome and Firefox, with an Internet Explore version coming. I tried it on RockMelt, which is Chrome based, and it seemed to work okay for Facebook, but not for Google+. I’ll probably do more testing on that later. In a lot of ways it feels like good old fashioned PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, with the advantage, or perhaps disadvantage, depending on how you look at it, that it handles keys nicely for you.
Once you’ve installed Social Fortress, you can let it know who you are willing to allow to see decrypt your messages. Essentially, it appears as if your key is tied to your email address, and that one key is installed per computer. This can present problems for people with multiple email addresses or people that share computers. Also, it doesn’t give a nice way of setting up groups.
This gets to the next issue I have with Social Fortress. Posting encrypted messages on a social media site is kind of annoying. If you are using Google+ and you only post it to a circle of people that you know are using the same encryption system, that’s probably okay. If Social Fortress starts gaining traction, hopefully these options will appear.
The final bit of technology I want to mention is an app called Hey Tell. It is a push to talk instant voice messaging system for smartphones. So far, for me, it seems to fill that area of when you want to send a quick message to someone, but you don’t want to send it as a text message, or some other short message, and you don’t want to place a phone call. However, so far, I don’t find that I’m really ever looking to do that, and I find this app not quite as compelling as various voice blogging systems, which I also almost never use. I might kick this one around a little bit later, but not likely.
So, what are you seeing for new technology?
In 1957, Joe Bohlen, George Beal and Everett Rogers published The Diffusion Process for the Agriculture Extension Service of Iowa State College. It focused on which farmers were buying hybrid corn. The work was later generalized into Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers. Typically, adopters of innovations are organized into five groups, the innovators, the early adopters, the early majority, the late majority and the laggards. It seems to be a useful way of looking at even the innovations in online social networks of today, somewhat.
The caveat is that when a new innovation comes out from Google, everyone tries to jump on board right away and this messes up the whole process. So, for example, Google+ reportedly already has 4.5 million users. Facebook reported has 750 million users. So, Google has just over one half of one percent of the users that Facebook has. This would seem to suggest that the vast majority of users should be ‘innovators’, since in the typical diffusion model, the first 2.5% are innovators.
However, from all that I am seeing, I question whether that is really the case. It seems as if there are others who are kicking the tires, and perhaps even saying negative stuff about Google+ because they are non-innovators using a tool that is still really only ready for innovators.
This came to mind in a tweet chat, where people were complaining that they didn’t know what problem Google+ was trying to solve. I would suggest this is a non-innovators way of looking at a recent innovation. In that discussion, I quote Robert F Kennedy’s famous line "Some men see things as they are and ask 'Why?' I dream things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'" I would suggest that this characterizes the innovators approach. The innovator doesn’t look at an innovation and ask what problem it was created to solve. The innovator revels in exploring the innovation for its own sake, for the joy of exploration and innovation. The innovator comes up with ideas about how the innovation could be used.
To me, that is the state that Google+ is in right now. There are a lot of interesting aspects about how it could be used waiting to be explored. One friend, who self-identifies as an innovator described one of the things he is enjoying about the Google+ experience right now, is the feeling of “we’re all figuring this out together”. That is an innovator’s perspective, and I join with him in enjoying this phase of the innovati8on.
Another friend wrote, “After playing with Google+ a bit and contemplating several applications to community building, I could feel my brain frying”. She talked about feeling the need to disconnect. While I am glad she is on Google+, it may not yet be her time. My innovator friends and I will explore what can be done with Google+. Then, my early adopter friend will see one of those things that clicks for her, and she will run with it. She will do some fantastic community building using the innovation along with the ideas that innovators have come up with how to use it. Either that, or my innovator friends and I will not come up with ideas that resonate for her and other early adopters, and Google+ will need to go through more changes before it is ready for early adopters. Perhaps, even, the innovators won’t find anything at all, in the time frame that Google is looking at, and they will pull the plug, prematurely in the eyes of various innovators, like they have with Google Wave or Google Health.
Of course, once an early adopter finds the application of the innovation that resonates, and starts using it, that is when things take off. This is what the early majority sees and what draws them in; not only the innovation, but the community of practice and the best practices they have established, and most importantly a simple way that they can see how it makes their lives better.
One problem is that the late majority and the laggards, who generally don’t like change, will spend their time complaining about how the change really isn’t all the beneficial. In previous days, they might not start their griping until the innovation has already started being picked up by the early majority, and by then it is too late. However, today, with everything happening instantaneously, the laggards are managing to read enough about innovations like Goolge+ to start attacking it right away. As an innovator, I can only wonder how many innovations die because of this.
So, are you on Google+? Do you consider yourself an innovator? An Early adopter? Part of the Early Majority, the Late Majority, or a laggard? How does your approach to the diffusion of innovations relate to your reaction to Google+?
Yesterday morning, I finally managed to get into Google+ (although I still cannot run the Google+ android app). With that, I can now call myself an expert and pontificate with the best of them. There are several different topics that people are talking about in Google+. The biggest is how to use it. Some of the more experienced technology writers look down on this topic. They appear to have distain for self-reflection. Personally, I think these are the most important discussions.
First, I’ll draw an analogy. I remember when I got my first hybrid car. I had fun driving it around, just for the sake of getting to know what it could and couldn’t do. I would talk with friends about the pros and cons of the little display on the dashboard that showed how the hybrid system was working. I kept glancing at the display, and modifying my driving behavior to get the best benefit out of the car. I shared my ideas with others, and they gave me valuable insights as well.
That’s what is happening right now. To me, and it appears as if it is the case for others as well, the big idea is ‘circles’. Instead of adding friends or following people, until you get to an unmanageable mess, like has happened for many on Facebook and Twitter, you can add people to ‘circles’ and then interact with circles, instead of with everyone in the world.
This begs the question, how best to organize your circles. This gets to the limited field test of Google+. I’m going to guess that the people at Google don’t really understand what these circles might mean, so they are allowing people to play with them, so that we can all see what emerges as the best way of organizing circles.
My suggestion that Google might not really understand circles is based on a few different things. First, they suggest four circles, Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. Other than family, which I only have one person in right now, who is waiting for an invite, I have not used these circles. They seem to me to be too old school. They show up at the top of the lists and cannot be removed. I have created a new circle called, Misc., as a nod to David Weinberger’s book Everything is Miscellaneous. I put everyone in Misc. Yeah, perhaps Misc and Following are the same. If I could rename Following to Misc, I might have stayed with it, but to me Misc, is more than just Following. There are people who are miscellaneous contacts that I may not especially be interested in ‘following’, at least in the way I follow people on Twitter. Instead, I want to keep them in my Misc. category as leads to people I might want to revisit at some point.
With that, I’ve started creating categories based on contexts that make sense to me. I’ve created categories for locations. New Haven, Connecticut, Texas, California, etc. These might not be where the people are from or currently reside. They are simply where I associate them as being from. This illustrates one of the things I wish Google+ circles had, which a lot of other people have talked about as well, circles of circles. If I add someone to the New Haven category, they should be part of the Connecticut category. Likewise, I have a Progressives category and a Politics category. For me, I’d like to have everyone I put in my progressives category in my politics category.
I’ve also created a Technology category, a Virtual Worlds category, and a Nonprofits category. I’d like to be able to do Boolean logic on this and see what my friends in nonprofit technology are saying. I also had the idea for some sort of ‘rules’ processing of circles, but I’ve forgotten how I thought that should work, so I’ll just leave that hanging for right now.
Others have written about how they think Google Plus' Circles System May Not be Sustainable. The illustration they use is of what happens when people change jobs. Like with the idea of putting people in a Friends circle, putting people in a Work circle may not make sense. However, I may set up a CHC circle when some of my current coworkers get invites. I may set up circles for other companies I’ve worked with in the past. I might even set up a meta-circle of people that I’ve worked with at some point. To use circles effectively, I believe you need to think out your relationships over time, and how they change. Yes, that will require updating information about some contacts at some points. Of course that reflects life as well. It is important to reflect changes in relationships.
All of that said, I want to think about some of the underlying concepts about circles for me. The first is Dunbar’s number. The idea of Dunbar’s number is that we can only really keep track of around 150 people within a given context. It is the way the mind is wired, Dunbar suggests, and is backed up by all kinds of research from the size of early tribes to even online behavior today. As a general rule, I want to keep my circles, which might be thought of as the tribes I belong to, as having less than 150 members. My Misc circle is already well above that, as would other circles that might be circles of circles. When a circle gets to have 150 members, it probably should be broken into subgroups.
This gets to another idea I’ve been interested in. While I am not well read on System Center Therapy and the work Yvonne Agazarian, she has written a lot about subgroups, and it would seem interesting to take her theories about subgroups and think about how they might apply to circles and circles of circles.
One thing you may notice. I really haven’t touched on the issue of privacy. For me, I like to share everything I write with everyone. I figure that once it is online, no matter what people say about privacy, it is really public. I do worry about spamming my friends and might find times when I want to share what I’m writing with a subset of people, but as a general rule, everything I write, I consider public.
However, this isn’t the case for others, particularly doctors and therapists. Some people I know set up different accounts, work accounts and personal accounts, or they use different systems different ways, i.e. Twitter for everything public, Facebook for everything personal, and LinkedIn for everything work related. Through the use of Circles, Google+ may be a good solution to various of these issues.
With that, let me return to the key part. Google+ is still in a ‘field test’. To me, that means that it should only really be used by people interested in exploring new ways to use it and how it could be used as a disruptive technology. I remember back in about 2007 going to advertising conferences where people dismissed Second Life and Twitter as having no potential. While I still believe there are interesting opportunities for virtual worlds, I question whether Linden Labs will allow that potential to be reached, so to me, the jury is still out on Second Life. However, Twitter seems to have established itself pretty well now.
I suspect anyone prognosticating about the future of Google+ is, hmm, I can’t think of a polite way to put it. Think about smoky orifices. If you are going to look at it as a replacement for Facebook or Twitter, there isn’t a lot there right now. However, it is still an evolving field test. The thing that will make it interesting, or not, to me seems to be if people can find new things to do with it. Like the cellphone or the copying machine, if you look at what they were expected to replace, they didn’t have great prospects. When you look at the new things people could do, it became a different story.
A side thought about this, I have to wonder how Google+ relates to The Google Grid in EPIC
Will people find something interesting, new and disruptive to do with Google+? We’ll see. To flatly say no, simply reflects the inability to think innovatively, and as an early field test, it is really only the innovators that ought to be in there.
My two cents for now.
Well, everyone has written their initial impressions of Google+ based on the early invites they received, or perhaps on looks at the documentation Google has provided. From a technical side, I’m there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t been said. I did receive and invite late last night, but by the time I received it, I couldn’t login, so I’m still waiting on that.
At work, CHC is part of the Google for Nonprofits program. I asked there if there was anything coming with Google+ for Nonprofits; nothing yet. One friend at Google posted a link to where to sign up for Google for Developers. I signed up there and am waiting for information.
I loaded Google+ on my Android phone and set it up with my Gmail account. Unfortunately, the Android app doesn’t allow for multiple accounts and the invite I received was for my Orient Lodge email account. I tried uninstalling the app, hoping to re-install it and then set it up with my Orient Lodge account. However, it won’t uninstall.
So much for the technology side, let’s think about the how it might change things.
Circles are the most interesting to me. I have over two thousand friends on Facebook and over thirty four hundred followers on Twitter. Both systems, provide for things like lists or groups, but all of my connections were established before groups and lists, and neither have been all that easy to use or move to, so, to borrow from David Weinberger, all of my contacts are miscellaneous.
That said, I really like the ideas of circles, not so much for a privacy reason. If I post something on Facebook or Twitter, I’m assuming anyone will ultimately be able to read it, and it doesn’t matter which circle it goes to. On the other hand, I like the idea of being able to read what people in different circles are saying. Sometimes, I want to read the political stuff. Sometimes, I want to read the local stuff.
There are a lot of different ways I would like to look at circles. I’m interested in Venn or Euler diagrams of my different circles. Sometimes I want to read Politics. Sometimes I want to read Connecticut stuff. Sometimes I want to read the intersection of the two, Connecticut Politics. Likewise, some circles are subsets of other circles. For example, I would like to have a Woodbridge circle and a New Haven circle, maybe even a Bethany circle. Each of these circles would be a subset of a New Haven County circle, and a Third Congressional District circle, which in term would be a subset of a Connecticut circle and a New England circle.
Similar circles about QR Codes, Drupal developers, the old Wave developers group, Maemo developers, etc. would all fit into a technology circle. Progressives, moderates, independents, would all be part of a political circle and there would be some interesting overlaps between Republican and Democratic circles.
With that, I could also imagine doing some interesting intersections of circles like progressive drupal developers in New York.
Now, if other people have interesting circles, I could easily imagine looking at what my progressive friends are saying just to their progressive friends as opposed to what they are saying about the red carpet at the latest awards show. That said, sometimes, I may want to hear what my progressive friends are saying in entertainment circles.
All of this runs into the difficulty memorialized in a Saturday Night Live skit during the early days of digital watches, a watch so complicated it takes four hands to use.
The next issue is social and group dynamics aspects. How does this relate to small groups, large groups, subgroups, and other types of dynamics? This is a topic I really want to explore in more detail, but its time for dinner, so that will wait for another time.
So, what do you think about Google+? Oh, and I added Google’s +1 link to my blog posts as another thing to play with…