Fun with Google Social Search

Google Social Search is now available in Google Labs. Danny Sullivan has the most in-depth coverage out there but it’s worth turning on yourself because you’re going to be the best judge of how well this feature performs for you.

Be sure to dig deeper than the default two results Google throws timidly down at the bottom of your search results. Click Show Options and click on the Social category in your sidebar. Check out the results you get for People and you’ll get a feel for the power of this feature.

Google Social Search

You have the full index of Google quickly filtered by names that should be familiar to you. In a stroke of genius, Google has re-labeled this extended network your, “social circle” which a much better label than “friends” (which didn’t sound right) or “social graph” which no one really understood.

The screenshot above is my aha moment – I had no idea that Caterina ever was in Finland and certainly didn’t know that she took the time to suggestions of things to do in Helsinki. This is a post from 2003 which most certainly have been lost to the sands of time if it were not for this feature which surfaced this gem in just a few clicks.

And now for a feature request. As you can see, this is a great feature for retrospective searches which makes the foggy past plainly visible.  What about adding an RSS subscribe option so that you could apply these searches to the prospective future?

It would be great to know when any of my extended social circle also wrote about my adopted hometown. I suppose it would be easy enough to script something but why not build it in?

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Social Discovery, Social Filtering, and other Web-Squared Shapes

It’s hard to wrap up a major conference, especially when you didn’t attend, but viewing things from a distance sometimes helps because only the loudest messages make it all the way over.

Before the conference even started, Fred Wilson threw out a one-liner that got people thinking. He called it the Golden Triangle.

The three current big megatrends in the web/tech sector are mobile, social, and real-time.

To Fred, the vectors between each of these points on his triangle represented the biggest opportunities over the next few years and where he, as a technology VC, was going to focus his attention.

Ross Mayfield, his line from the first Web 2.0 conference is still relevant, added Geo to Fred’s Triangle and posted his virtual napkin up on flickr.

ross mayfield web squared

The importance of Geo cannot be ignored as the most obvious (and easiest) way to add context to information which is being harvested and sent our way in increasingly alarming rates. We talk about a world in which there are 1 billion mobile devices. Imagine what happens when each of these gets a camera, gps, and bluetooth sensor and an IP connection to pull in real-time updates. Adds a new dimension to Right Here, Right Now.

So while HTML Page Indexers of yore were failing at finding us the best Chinese in Helsinki or plumber in London, Social Discovery became the new nectar. Facebook leads to FriendFeed leads to Twitter and now our capacity to consume and process has overloaded. Groups, Hashtags, Lists, Folders, call them what you will but this manual organization of streams is beginning to feel like e-mail folder management all over again. The Googles and Microsofts have added the Twitter firehose to their indexes but somehow I don’t see that as solving the problem unless they can filter on your social connections as well (rumor has it Google Profiles are about to play a much more important role Google Social Search is now live).

Which brings us to Social Filters.

Marshall Kirkpatrick has been following this topic for a long time. He bangs the Social Filter drum again in a post about Facebook’s News Feed redesign,

Someday social networking is going to be like the telephone. Today you can’t send messages from Facebook to people on MySpace or LinkedIn but that isn’t going to last forever. Just as you can call someone who uses T-Mobile from your Sprint phone, someday sharing and messaging between online social networks will be a given.

How will social networks retain users then? Why stick with Facebook when some smaller service offers a decentralized social networking service outside of Facebook’s control but still tied into your friends on Facebook and elsewhere?

These services will someday have to compete on user experience, when they no longer have your social connections locked-in. The service that does the best job filtering up the most important information you have coming your way will likely be the service you stick with. That’s going to be a key area of competition between social networks.

Yes, it’s no longer about who “owns” the social graph – it’s who provides the best services on top of a shared graph. Someone mentioned that Tim Berners Lee said at the conference that AOL was to WWW as Facebook is to distributed social networks. Just as we thought it silly that AOL wanted to put it’s famous wall around the internet, we may also look back in amazement thinking that anyone could have the audacity to think they could own the world’s social address book.

Some historical perspective from Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle in Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On

There is a race on right now to own the social graph. But we must ask whether this service is so fundamental that it needs to be open to all.

It’s easy to forget that only 15 years ago, email was as fragmented as social networking is today, with hundreds of incompatible email systems joined by fragile and congested gateways. One of those systems – internet RFC 822 email – became the gold standard for interchange.

We expect to see similar standardization in key internet utilities and subsystems. Vendors who are competing with a winner-takes-all mindset would be advised to join together to enable systems built from the best-of-breed data subsystems of cooperating companies.

Bringing it all together you can almost hear the synapses of the global brain achieve self-awareness. Not only are we moving to a web of sensors feeding real-time data into the grid, we are annotating it by injecting bits of human commentary and behaviors across an increasingly distributed social graph.

A phone in one corner of the world sends off a snapshot which is immediately re-tweeted via the world’s largest telephone tree. More reasoned minds pick up the samples, turn it over and examine it and later conclude that no, the calculated mass of the balloon could in fact not hold a small boy aloft – rumor refuted! Lesson learned and the network becomes a little smarter, more skeptical, less knee-jerk adolescent. Sentient if you will.

The pieces are in place, the machines are warmed up. It was fun while it lasted but it’s time to put Failblog aside and see if we can move on to tackle bigger problems. O’Reilly and Battelle wrap up with their call to arms,

2009 marks a pivot point in the history of the Web. It’s time to leverage the true power of the platform we’ve built. The Web is no longer an industry unto itself – the Web is now the world.

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Ringtone Symphony

Izumi pointed me this old video from the Improv Everywhere performance troupe in which they orchestrate the simultaneous ringing of a large number of cellphones stored in a normally quiet place.

Mayhem ensues.

Phish, Embracing the Remix

Jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish have always been ahead of the curve with how they let their fans record their concerts because as Jerry Garcia famously said, “Once we’re done with it, it’s theirs.”

These bands have always made more money on their tours than record sales anyway and because each show was uniquely different, fans created a community around the trading of bootleg tapes on sites such as etree.org

phish summer09

Phish made the jump to digital and saw an opportunity to feed the demand for high quality recordings of their concerts and turned it into a business on their site, livephish.com. The site featured high quality FLAC format recordings of their concerts just days after each show. Included with each download was a pdf file of artwork related to the show, title tracks with timings, all formatted to fit into the standard jewel case for the CDs that you’d burn at home.

The downloads are non-DRM but are priced such that it’s really not worth trading anyway (unless you want to gift someone) and the site offers special discounts for people that order all concerts from a tour in advance, kind of a futures market for the band’s performances.

Today I got an email which explains their latest innovation in conjunction with a big show they are doing for Halloween in California where they will famously appear in “band costume” and play an entire album from a yet-to-be-announced other band.

THE HOUSE OF LIVE PHISH

It’s back for Festival 8 with a nice twist. Get out of the heat, the House Of Live Phish will be air conditioned! Think you can do a better job mixing Phish? The House will feature mix-your-own-track stations complete with skilled instructors from ProMedia, and you’ll be able to re-mix tracks from this Summer’s Tour while drinking a Shasta (Wait, scratch that last part — Shasta’s just pulled out). Final tracks will be uploaded to a blog at livephish.com for everyone’s listening pleasure.

Also, everyone who visits the House of Live Phish will receive a free card redeemable for a Live Phish Summer 09 Sampler. Download and burn your own sampler onto CD using a Mac from our buddies at Small Dog Electronics in Vermont, or just enjoy listening to any of the songs at LivePhish.com on a Sonos listening station.

We’re also making each show from the weekend available on slotMusic micro SD cards, so that you can grab them on your way out of the concert field and listen back right away. Each card comes with a USB sleeve ensuring interoperability with all computers as well a microSD-enabled mobile phones and MP3 players. Listen to the concert on your way back to your campsite (you will never not be listening to Phish. Get used to it). Stop by the Phish Dry Goods tent for more details.

Letting fans remix their shows and uploading them to a site so that others can listen in? Cool!

Providing a kiosk where fans can download their favorite tracks from the tour and take them home on a CD? Nice!

Liked the show? Grab a microSD of the show on your way home. Priceless!

Less Powerpoint, More Prototypes

no powerpointI’m a big believer in hacking together a working prototype to demonstrate product ideas. Powerpoint mocks basically put a shiny gloss on a paper sketch and because it’s not real, generate endless debate where no one is really speaking on authority because the product doesn’t exist.

Once you have a prototype the debate becomes substantive.  Prototypes trump PowerPoint every time. Building a quick prototype is a way of sketching an idea – the emphasis should be on quick on dirty – get the pieces working with real data to see how things move, that’s it. Expect reactions and expect that you’ll need to tear it apart and redo things, that’s ok – expect that people might hate it and you’ll throw it away. Because of that, don’t invest too much time or ego into your prototype either, it will change, guaranteed. In this sense, churn is good.

This is why I really enjoyed Paul Buchheit’s post Communicating with Code where he writes about how both GMail and AdSense came together.

Of course none of the code from my prototype ever made it near the real product (thankfully), but that code did something that fancy arguments couldn’t do (at least not my fancy arguments), it showed that the idea and product had real potential.

The point of this story, I think, is that you should consider spending less time talking, and more time prototyping, especially if you’re not very good at talking or powerpoint. Your code can be a very persuasive argument.

GMail & AdSense were born from working prototypes, not PowerPoint.  Whenever possible, try and avoid PowerPoint for product design, unless it’s for art.

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WaveRoller, a childhood dream realized

I used to read Popular Mechanics magazine back in elementary school and would read about all the cool inventions (Robotic Surgeons! DIY Jet-powered Go Kart!) and it got me in trouble more than a few times because what I learned there was not part of the 3rd grade curriculum.

waveroller

I still remember a test where we were supposed to list future sources of energy. Instead of solar I put “waves” instead and got dinged on my score. I remember protesting, assuming my teacher surely had read the cover piece in that month’s Popular Mechanics. Back then I assumed, for some weird reason all teachers read and knew everything. No dice, the red mark stayed.

Today I read that what I read about back then is actually reality with a Finnish company that has announced a contract to build a working prototype off the coast of Portugal.

Quicktime Video (17MB)

This news was announced at Mindtrek, a conference I attended in Tampere, Finland. Startups are thick on the ground in Finland and I’ll write more on this later and the conference in another post.

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