Monthly Archives: December 2009

Art walk at the Smithsonian


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Google Wave: Good for a 2009 Year in Review but is it useful for more?

Barb Dybwad over at Mashable picked up on a video by Whirled Interactive where they use Google Wave as vehicle for a clever 2009 Year in Review that breaks down the major news events.

As Dybwad writes, this video shows the potential for Wave as a “video production medium,” like the “Pulp Wave Fiction” movie that Mashable shared elsewhere. And as Adam Ostrow tweeted, the folks over at Whirled Interactive are “super talented.”

As funny as these videos may be, I’m still looking for a personal use case for Google Wave. I’ve been dipping in and out of Wave for months as new people log on and explore. I expected the network effect of having more contacts there to result in some pick up. Enterprise 2.0 is not THAT big of a deal,as Andy McAfee says: what about Google Wave?

The Good

Google proposes any number of functions for Google Wave, including:

  1. Event Organizing
  2. Creation and Management of “Living” Group Projects
  3. Drag-and-Drop Photo Sharing
  4. Creation of “Living” meeting notes
  5. Interactive Gaming

The best way to learn about the software, however, is to read Gina Trapani and Adam Pash’s Complete Guide to Google Wave and to watch this (long) intro video from Google itself:

Lorraine Lawson wrote about Google Wave’s potential for enterprise integration over at IT Business Edge back in June and offered any number of potential use cases. (I have yet to hear about their transition into case studies.) Dion Hinchcliffe was bullish on the potential of the tool when he wrote about the enterprise implications of Google Wave at the end of May. He offered an excellent “first look” review there, for readers who want a more detailed breakdown of what Wave it and how it works.

More recently, Lifehacker included Google Wave on its 5 best collaboration tools, and collected an impressive breadth and variety of Google Wave use cases that range from family life to wedding planning,  disaster relief to translation for research.

The bad

For me, combining a heterogenous suite of wikis, microblogging, email, IM and Skype has continued to be more useful than Wave. As a working environment, I’ve found it to be both noisy, as I watch other contribute, and often unstable.  (I even gave it a try on my iPhone over wifi, an experience akin to pouring molasses down a snowdrift).

My colleague, Rachel Lebeaux, expressed much the same reaction when she wrote about Google Wave as an enterprise collaboration tool. (She found a CIO who is installing a Wave server in her comments; I hope to hear more on that.)

Since then, however, the reaction online has often been withering, due in part to the learning curve required of new users that don’t have the attention span to watch that video or read the manual. For good or ill, people expect to be able to figure out collaborative software without that time investment. The editor-in-chief of TechRepublic, Jason Hiner, put the software at the top of his “worst tech products of the year.” Tough year in review to make:

“After trying Google Wave when the product was released into the wild, my opinion hasn’t changed (and others such as Robert Scoble have come to the same conclusion). Google Wave is basically a super-chatty IM client, and a badly overhyped one at that. The only use I can see for this product is for geographically dispersed project teams collaborating and brainstorming on documents and product development ideas in real time.”

And as Shaun Dakin @replied tonight, “@RWW named it as one of the top 10 products failures of the year, I agree. Solution in search of problem.” To say that Jolie O’Dell was rough on Wave is an understatement:

“We have to hand it to Google’s publicity team; we don’t know one geek who wasn’t positively salivating for a Wave invite. The ReadWriteWeb back channel was a complete melee when the first invites were rolled out to team members. But once we got there and saw the new tech tricks, like watching one another type, we started thinking about use cases. And the more we struggled to understand and use this product, the more frustrated and bored we became. Blame it on the steep learning curve. Blame it on our misunderstanding the product. Mount whatever feeble defense you like, but techies know Wave was a flop.

The trouble-y

Even with all of that negativity, I still have trouble with dismissing Google Wave as a victim of hype. I’ve already read about some innovative use cases for those who can get through the UI challenges. And I’ve met CIOs and CTOs who are interested in what happens next, when Google’s engineers iterate to address user feedback.

Many media organizations are trying out Google Wave for news, as Leah Betancourt shared on Mashable and Lifehacker wrote about above. As she writes:

Additionally, as Revolution Magazine reported, Welt Kompakt, a spinoff of the German daily Die Welt, is among the first newspapers around the world to integrate Google Wave into its coverage.

When I asked if any of my followers had found a use for Google Wave, Wayne Kurtzman @replied that “Google Wave is amazing if people use it as a collaboration tool; not just e-mail. Google does not make it easy to learn how & holds it back. I used Wave to collaborate on a voice over script for a video; elements SoundFX, vid, script, etc. Goog has no resources to teach others. Security, cultural (collab) and our size are challenges. Wave can be a game-changer.”

As quoted in Forbes, Tom Mornini, CTO and founder of Engine Yard, “pointed out recently (see: “The Real Meaning of Google Wave”), the major impact of Google Wave will ultimately come from its power as a development platform for serious, distributed applications.” If you’re wondering at how far Google Wave will get, consider whether enterprise software makers like SAP are taking it seriously as a platform. As Forbes described, SAP Research  used of it in its Gravity demonstration prototype, combining SAP’s business process modeling (BPM) technology with Google Wave.

My colleague Kristen Caretta was balanced  in assessing what Google Wave may mean for IT, offering that Gravity use case. Kristin also wrote that “ is working on a prototype extension to Google Wave that could help its customers provide customized, documented support in their own businesses.”

Attendees at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in San Francisco this fall were presented with other Google Wave use cases by Google Wave product manager Gregory D’Alesandre, including Novell Pulse and ThoughtWorks. The collaboration tool is certainly part of Google’s plans for its enterprise customers. “Wave will be available as part of the Google Apps suite if you have Google Apps for your domain,” said D’Alesandre.

That might all imply that at least some techies do not, in fact, regard Wave as a flop. Google continues to add more to its development team with the recent acquisition of Etherpad, a Web-based collaboration app that may well be a boost to Google Wave.

As for this geek, caught somewhere in the intertices between journalism and techiedom, I’ll be on the lookout for more enterprise and media use cases. If you have one at hand, please share it in the comments.

Welt Kompakt, a spinoff of the German daily Die Welt, is among the first newspapers around the world to integrate Google Wave into its coverage, Revolution Magazine reported yesterday.
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Panic Attack! Brilliant YouTube short turns to $30M movie deal

As the BBC reported today, Fede Alvarez was signed to a movie deal a month after uploading the terrific short embedded above to YouTube.

“I uploaded (Panic Attack!) on a Thursday and on Monday my inbox was totally full of e-mails from Hollywood studios,” he told the BBC’s Latin American service BBC Mundo

Alvarez will be sponsored by Sam Raimi and is slated to produce an original scifi flick based in Argentina and Uruguay.

The Beeb is weeks late on reporting this deal, given that blogged about Panic Attack in November, but it’s still good news for scifi fans.

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Linking, tweeting and social search on the human-curated Web

Comments have increasingly become distributed. They’ve fled into the interstices of the Web, into tweets,  Facebook updates or threads in Google Reader, for those who use those platforms.  That’s why Disqus or Echo or other ways to aggregate comments about content through trackbacks and “tweetbacks” have become more important. That’s also why when you stumble across a high traffic blog that receives dozens of comments on each post, you know you’ve found a community of interest.

Yesterday, I commented on a story from Universal Hub that someone in my network had shared. That, in turn, led to more than a dozen others comments. By the end of the thread, however, the focus had turned from whether religious texts could be used in high school literature classes (something the Supreme Court has ruled on) to my use of Twitter.

It’s remarkable how many different places that Twitter has come up this year in conversations, often with strong opinions about its utility, business value or reflection on human nature. In this case, the comments were forceful, caustic and directed squarely at me. Since the author may not be alone in his sentiments, I responded at length.

On Tweeting

The commenter focused his not-so-veiled critique on users guilty of “spewing links, dropping names and writing tweets that at times border on incomprehensible serve to do nothing but inflate the ego of the user who is clearly more concerned with the number of ‘followers’ than anything else.

I don’t, in general, follow people who just link or @reply to celebrities. I rely upon those I’ve carefully chosen to follow over the  years  to filter and curate the best of what’s happening. Twitter Lists have made that even easier.  I do need to be careful not to use too many #hashtags. Each tweet should be legible and understandable on its own. Focusing on clarity there is among my New Year’s resolutions.

On Linking

I also commented that I believed I provide more value than most, which, given the quality of most tweets, isn’t unreasonable.  I look for further validation to Chris Brogan, who tweeted “endless value in his tweetstream: @digiphile” last month, or to my friend Patrick LaForge at the New York Times, who included me on his “linkers” list. Or NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen, who added me to his “mindcasters” list.

Here’s the secret sauce – and it’s isn’t a closely held one: When I tweet, I attribute author, source and provide a link to more information.

That’s the format and behavior that has been rewarded, not “spewing links” like the twitterfeeds I so dislike. I don’t care about whatever my follower count is, honestly. I care about who they are, since that provides me with a direct line to folks at the New York Times, Wired, Google, RWW, TechCrunch or dozens of other tech pubs, blogs or institutions. I’ve gotten more than enough validation from those folks to insulate me now against haters, although to be honest, I haven’t found many. Most I’ve asked for feedback say I inform and occasionally entertain, and have generally been grateful when I’ve livetweeted events. It’s the Internet. Here, you can’t please everyone all of the time.

On Social Search

Recently, Google included tweets at the top of search results. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt tweeted, “so glad we could integrate tweets into our Google search products; real-time really matters.” Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts explaining what social search means to Google:

My critic chose to dive deep into Google’s interest in real-time search, suggesting that:

“Google’s Holy Grail isn’t real time search, just a way to rake in dollars. Google is a business that wants to make money. Google makes money with its search engine by getting eyeballs on results. Real time search is compelling to Google because it will bring more eyeballs to its search engine. More eyeballs on the search engine mean more advertisers want in. That, in turn, lines Google’s pockets further. Mayer and Schmidt have identified Twitter as a hot trend that it can capitalize on, which explains the love affair. In the end, Google doesn’t really care what anyone is spewing out 140 characters at a time. It only cares that it can serve ads based on continuously updating content.”

I find that to be a shallow assessment of Google. Brin and Page founded the company with a different mission than making money: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The revenue model to support that only came years afterwards. As a public company, Schmidt and other corporate officers must “maximize” shareholder value, which has meant cutting some of the more wild engineering projects. Money matters, as does the business strategy, but there’s something else at work there.

Google isn’t a monolithic “it,” despite AP style. The company is made up of thousands of people. Those that are working on next-gen search under Mayer care do care about “what anyone is spewing out 140 characters at a time,” including who they are. Listen to Mayer’s talk at LeWeb or Marshall Kirkpatrick’s analysis of social search at ReadWriteWeb for the reasons why this is so: influence, validation on a specific channel and link behavior.

“What we looked at was twelve different signals,” said Mayer, including retweets, replies, and topics retweeted. Those in aggregate leads to “a notion of authoritativeness.

That notion is the crux of adaption PageRank to a more social Web. Just as the human-aided algorithm at TechMeme organizes the best, more relevant discussions in the tech blogosphere, Google (and Bing’s) search team are looking for ways to make search social. Twitter and Facebook are clearly part of the social search puzzle. The actions of the connectors share phatics that make sense of that activity, much as the links from blogs and static websites organized the early Web.

Our navigation of the real world using social search is already improving. Take my experience yesterday, when I replied to Robert Scoble that searching for sushi in Capitol Hill in DC told a visual tale. I found Bing ‘s results less useful than Google’s search results because of geolocation, map integration and the ads served up. By sharing that, however, I learned more from people than the algorithm:

First, I learned from @imusicmash Bing actually does show a map for most searches for food, like “sushi palo alto.” Second, I heard from @DonavonHill that Kabuki Sushi in DC’s Union Station equals “SUPER-YUM!”

That’s social search in action, in real-time.

As we share what we’re thinking, working on, where we’re traveling or what our experiences are of any topic on the Web, we’re contributing to the nascent “noosphere,” a philosophical concept I described to @james3neal as the  skein of global consciousness containing humanity’s cultural achievements.  As we update social networks with our experiences, social search will be the means by which we surf that human-curated Web. It may be that we don’t use the word “social‘ to describe the process, choosing collaborative or people instead.

If Marissa Mayer’s search engineers are successful, an “omnivorous search engine” may make that social search intuitive.


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My 1st post to WordPress and Twitter using Tweetie 2

My 1st post to WordPress and Twitter using Tweetie2
“@photomatt gets big hooray for wordpress+twitter=!!!” – @dangillmor

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Distributed collaborative birding? Yup, there’s an app for that.

My friend Ed shared something me that’s pretty nifty if you’re a geeky birder, like me: an iPhone application that gives you instant access to reports of birds near you.

As Mary Esch wrote in an “App in the hand” for the AP, the BirdsEye bird-finding app “gives users instant access to recent reports of birds spotted near their location, tells them where to look for specific birds, and keeps track of their lists of all the birds they’ve ever seen.”

As Mary also observes, the BirdEye app makes its debut just ahead of the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

If fellow birders are going to take it out and about with them, I hope they bring along an Otterbox or the like. The count tends to be a squishy slog that’s more conducive to hardy clipboards than sensitive consumer electronics.

That said, BirdsEye looks nifty.

Good thing, too, since at $19.99, the app isn’t cheap. I suspect, however, that many avid avian chasers might just be happy to fork over for it.

It uses the iPhone’s GPS to calculate your location and then displays a list of either all of the birds ever displayed in the area, sortable by recent activity. You can also filter for birds that aren’t on your lifetime sighting list, if you’ve spent the time on inputting that information from the back of your dog-eared and battered Petersen’s Guide. (For iPod Touch owners walking fields with no nearby wifi access — imagine that — there’s an option to  manually enter locations too.)

Birdseye includes some nifty interactive features, including tie-ins to maps, recorded bird calls, photos and spoken explanations by Kaufman about whether a given bird is likely to be spotted in trees, waterways or in the fields.

The application was developed by Birds in the Hand, LLC, of Virginia, and brings together content from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and field guide author Kenn Kaufman.

BirdsEye is now available on the App Store. (Direct link)

That collaboration of ornithologists means users have access to some of the best birding resources on the planet. According to Brian Sullivan at the Cornell lab, as quoted in the AP story, about 40,000 birders enter up to 2 million sightings every month into eBird.

And if people decide to spring for it this holiday season, you might well see some of my fellow geeky birders using a bird in hand to identify two in a bush.

For more on Birdseye, check out:

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Blackbox Republic: “Velvet rope” socialnet targets niche social dating

There are few certainties in the world. One clear phenomenon is that the Burning Man Festival continues to spawn innovative online communities. The most recent virtual entrée into the online maelstrom, Blackbox Republic, was conceived on the seventeen hour trip back from the scorching sands of the playa on Black Rock Desert, according to Sam Lawrence, CEO and co-founder.

The new site, which will go live at 9 PM PST today, is play for the hearts (and wallets) of people “who don’t consider themselves mainstream and are looking for a place to privately explore their personal lives” and aren’t finding satisfaction in the algorithm-driven pairing from sites like, or the uncertainties of

Blackbox Republic combines features from many different virtual communities that have become familiar as the Web 2.0 bubble as waxed and waned:

  • social networking, like Facebook
  • status updates, like Twitter
  • event planning, like eVite or
  • image and video sharing, Flickr

The design of the site, as shown on the right, features an updated take on the familiar status box and public areas of social networks.
The vision, as laid out by Lawrence in a phone call last night, is that Blackbox Republic will combine those features in a protected environment that allows users to connect freely, with more privacy than in other networks. Users have to be vouched for, says Lawrence, and granular controls for sharing mean that once they’re approved, a given update can be shared as publicly or privately as desired. Users can integrate Facebook and Twitter into the platform, allowing a public update to be broadcast widely.

One element where Blackbox Republic shows some evolution from previous social dating sites is its event generation and management features. Users can invite people inside and outside of the social network to an event. If they choose, they can create a public destination page that’s available to non-users without exposing more than location details and numbers to external visitors.

It’s worth observing that this is one social network that is not designed for underage visitors nor for those uncomfortable with more progressive approaches to love, relationships and intimacy.

Blackbox Republic offers subscription-based social dating for “all orientations, relationship combinations and lifestyles,” a description that could describe the openness of the Burning Man festival as well.

That hasn’t made all parties happy, at least where traditional business are concerned: as Lawrence shared on his blog, State Farm chose not to underwrite “social software that helps people meet online.” Lawrence says that an iPhone app is in the works, although who knows what Apple will do when it comes social dating.

Social networking fatigue is a reality for many online users. Adding one more to the mix means that users will need to find it easy to use, responsive and secure, especially given the privacy that is at issue in this context. Niche social networks are likely to be a major growth area next year, as companies and organizations use and similar platforms to create focused communities. Whether the strategy behind this “velvet roped” social network garners enough subscribers that find the slick design and social dating feature set attractive enough to make it a viable business will be worth watching in 2010.

Disclosure: Sam Lawrence is a friend, stemming back to his time as CMO at Jive Software. I received no compensation, food, services or other swag from writing about this new venture – As with most new creative online endeavors created by smart people, I just found it interesting.

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