Will Google.Me Cure Our Social Blues or Just Our Insomnia?

It’s looking more and more like I was right about Google.Me.  It’s sort of good to be right (particularly in the face of all the internet hype about how Google.Me is going to reinvent the internet and so forth), but bad that Google.Me is shaping up to be an expanded Google Buzz, mashing together a disparate bunch of applications, some of which Google is buying as we speak, into an inelegant, Gmail-captive mess.  I hold out hope that I’m wrong about this, but the likelihood that I am diminishes with every new leak and rumor.

Google.Me will apparently be built on the back of Google Buzz (as I predicted long ago), which exists as an awkward bolt-on to Gmail.

TechCrunch says:

We’ve also heard more from sources who’ve worked with Google on the product. “Google Me is not a product, it’s a social layer across all products” (not so helpful). But there’s more – “Google Me will produce an activity stream generated by all Google products. Google Buzz has been rewritten to be the host of it all. And the reason Google Buzz isn’t currently working in Google Apps is because they’ll use the latest Buzz to support the activity stream in Apps…All Google products have been refactored to be part of the activity stream, including Google Docs, etc. They’ll build their social graph around the stream.”

This is very bad and all the huffing and puffing in the blogosphere is not going to make it good.  When someone describes their world-changing product with a bunch of gibberish that sounds vaguely like a ton of other failed products, that’s reason for concern if not full-on panic.

What Google should do is build a completely new service, largely from the ground up, using its own technology and that of the many, many applications and services it has acquired over the past few months.  Gmail could be the digital hub for our online lives.  For example, the recent expansion of more services into Google Apps has already led me to try (and fail, but at least it made me try) to like my Start Page (e.g., iGoogle).  But stuffing more tossed together junk into Buzz, which was already tossed into our Gmail accounts sounds like the opposite of elegant.  Candidly, it sounds like a snoozefest of meetooism.

I really hope I’m wrong, but at this point I can’t help but believe that the general reaction to Google.Me is going to be one big yawn.

Good News for (at Least a Few) Google Apps Users

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I’ve been a Google Apps user for a long time.  Though I am generally satisfied with the email and light word processing features, I have also been highly critical of what I see as some gaping deficiencies in the experience.  In general, these deficiencies are:

1. The fact that the suite of apps looks tossed together, both in design and function.  Some of the apps, like Gmail, are beautiful.  Others, like Sites and Moderator (whatever that is), are so bad I can’t even suggest how to fix them.

2. The fact that few of the new apps and features that Google releases find their way into Google Apps.

Finally, it looks like there is hope.  Wired tells us today that Google has invited “select users” to test a version of Google Apps that includes all the features that regular Google users have:

[Google’s] now asking some Apps users — known as Trusted Testers — to help test out the infrastructure, according to an e-mail seen by Wired.com.
Good.  I hope this represents a trend that will ultimately make all these features available in Google Apps.  For everyone.

Did the Fighting Dinosaurs Just Get Gobbled Up Like an Apple?

You just have to feel bad for Google.  Poor little thing.

It’s running around, buying everything in sight, trying to cobble together something that can avoid being immediately killed by Facebook, and here comes Apple, announcing Ping, a social network built around iTunes (and its massive day-one user base).

It reminds me of those Saturday afternoon movies, where one brave but doomed dinosaur is bravely trying to fight a bigger dinosaur, only to have some bigger, larger, scarier creature stomp up out of nowhere and devour them both.

I don’t know that Ping can unseat Facebook as the sharing, dating, time wasting, etc. hub for the masses, but I know that it has a better chance of competing with Facebook than anything I have read or reasonably imagined about the forthcoming (for months) Google.Me.

For a company that makes its money via advertising, Google seems unable to properly market itself.  Everyone from Amazon to Roku saw this coming and at least tried to make a pre-emptive grab for relevance.  Meanwhile Google just keeps buying arms and legs, leaving us to wonder what manner of creature it is assembling.

I’d like to be wrong.  I’d like to see Google get it right and release something powerful, and elegant.  Not tossed together and crammed into Gmail.  I’m trying to keep my hopes up, but that rumbling sound in the distance scares me.

Poor Google.  It just can’t buy a break.

Why Are Google Apps Users Always at the Back of the Line?

appslineHere’s the way it goes when Google announces some new feature, like today’s announcement that Gmail users can make phone calls right from Gmail.  First, I read a little about it to see if it’s something I’m interested in.  Often, it is.  I get excited about it, and when I get home, I eagerly sit down at my computer to try it out.

Only to find out that the nifty new feature is not available to Google Apps users.  You know, those who use the platform Google wants us to use instead of those expensive Microsoft Office apps.  The same apps that Google would like for us to pay for.

The Gmail blog post announcing this new feature has this all-too-familiar nugget:

If you’re using Google Apps for your school or business, then you won’t see it quite yet. We’re working on making this available more broadly – so stay tuned!

I can’t imagine how pissed off I’d be if I was paying for Google Apps.  It’s sort of like if Microsoft rolled out feature after feature to its Docs users and promised to get back with paying Microsoft Office customers “soon.”  That probably won’t happen.

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But it keeps happening with Google Apps.  It’s messed up.  It’s backwards.  And it irks the dickens out of me.

Google.Me: Filters, Lists and Privacy Driven?

Gina Trapani, who is always among the best sources on the internet for reliable, well presented information, has another interesting post today about Google.Me, Google’s forthcoming Facebook competitor, clone and/or killer.  Embedded into Gina’s post is a 224 (long-winded much?) slide presentation given recently by Google’s Paul Adams.

I read the presentation for as long as I could, until exhaustion, hunger and that “will this never end” feeling I last had when I tried for the third time to slog my way through 100 Years of Solitude overcame me.  When I awoke from my slumber, I had a new vision of what Google.Me may be all about.

While I’m still very concerned that it is getting cobbled together and will be thrust upon us in an unfinished condition, Paul’s slides lead me to believe that it will be built around some combination of filters, lists and easy to understand and implement (unlike its nemesis Facebook) privacy controls.  Given how important the proper use of filters is to a decent Facebook experience, there is the potential to do some good here.

I don’t “friend” my kids or their friends on Facebook.  I also don’t generally “friend” my co-workers on Facebook.  But if I did (or ever do) I can completely understand how hard it would be to adequately compartmentalize those areas of your life within a social network.  And I’m positive that most people on Facebook don’t understand how to implement its byzantine privacy controls.  For example, I am amazed at the number of people who have managed to protect some of their information, but leave other parts (often their photos) wide open to view by anyone.  Not to mention the risk that search engines and third party apps may penetrate the privacy walls that are (sort of) in place.

buckets-300x300I also believe that there is real benefit in grouping people by relationship proximity.  While I don’t take the “all-comers” approach used by many of my fellow tech-bloggers, I have a couple hundred Facebook “friends.”  I care about all of them, but I care about some a lot more than others.  Everyone has similar groups.  The problem is focusing on and targeting one without over-including or neglecting the other.

If  Google can make an application that looks and feels like an integrated platform, and not a bunch of random parts tossed together (which is exactly what Google Apps looks like), add a way to easily create buckets of “friends,” and make it really, really easy to slice, dice  and deliver content to the various buckets, it might be onto something.

Ideally, Google.Me will serve as a hub for all or most of its users’ Google-created and third party content.  Foursquare, Skype, Yelp, Twitter (?), etc.  This would allow for deeper integration, and consolidated sharing with the relevant buckets.  Likewise, there needs to be filters on the receiving end, to spare me from Farmville and other stuff that make me want to set my hair on fire, and to keep Dwight from ever actually meeting me in person.

The way Paul’s presentation keeps returning to the groups of friends concept is strong evidence that buckets are a big part of Google’s strategy.  I just hope Google builds something new and exciting and doesn’t try (again) to force us to embrace our Google Profile.  At least not without completely reinventing Google Profiles.

If they get it right, cool.  If not, there’s always this.

Net Neutrality and the Least Unacceptable Alternative

The internets (now apparently using the plural isn’t as cute and clever as it used to be) are abuzz (pun semi-intended) with talk over Google and Verizon’s Joint Proposal for an Open Internet.

I don’t profess to be an expert in Net Neutrality, other than a pretty strong feeling that I am for it, and that it is good for the consumer.  One thing I am an expert in, however, is negotiation.  I get invited all over the country to speak on negotiation strategy.

image In negotiation strategy, there is the concept of “least acceptable alternative.”  The idea is that if you know you aren’t going to get what you really want, you have to seek something you can live with.  For example, if I want to go to a ballgame, but it’s our anniversary and my wife wants to go to the ballet, I should reevaluate my goals and try to end up at a concert.  It’s not the ballgame, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the ballet.

When things are really stacked against you, the least acceptable alternative morphs into the least unacceptable alternative.  I hate all of the alternatives, but I hate this one less than the others.

The question we should be asking about this policy and the roadmap it contemplates is not if it is exactly what we, the consumers, want.  It’s clearly not.  The question is if the proposed plan is the least unacceptable alternative, and if not for whose advantage was the true least unacceptable alternative abandoned.

Figure that out, and we’ll know how all this is shaping up.

Is Google.Me Getting Cobbled Together via Acquisition?

cobbledAs those participating in the lively and interesting discussion in the comments, Google Reader comments and (maybe) Google Buzz surrounding my last Google-related post know, I am pulling for Google.Me.  I think it is facing a monumental task in trying to divert the flow of attention from Facebook, but I hope it succeeds.

But the more data points that trickle out about Google’s forthcoming Facebook killer, the more concerns I have.  A combination of one thing we think we know and one thing we know for sure is driving me crazy.  Conventional wisdom is that Google.Me will launch in the near future, perhaps even imminently.  We know that Google has been on a buying spree, most recently buying something called Jambool, for a measly (in this messed up industry) $70M.  Just the other day, Google bought something called Slide (at least it has a name that doesn’t make me want to club a kitten to death).  There have been others, and there will certainly be more.

How can you assimilate the mad buying spree and the pending launch and not be afraid that Google.Me is going to be another tossed-together mishmash?  Like Google Apps, except worse.  The biggest problem Google has across all of its non-search apps is inconsistent (in function and looks) design and an almost complete failure of consistency.

How can the same company create something as elegant as Google search and as inelegant as just about every other product?  I don’t get it.

TechCrunch leads the Jambool story with this sentence:

Google continues to gobble up companies that will form the backbone of its new social strategy and the upcoming war with Facebook.

It’s really, really (like almost impossible) hard for me to envision an elegant platform arising out of cobbled together parts.  I’m looking for Jessica Biel and they’re gearing up to give me Frankenstein.

Granted, Facebook is not the most well-put-together web site in the world.  But I want this to be a race for the top, not a race to avoid the bottom.  I’m just not sure buying a house room by room is the way to go, if you’re really striving to turn heads (and the herd).

I’m still hoping Google can pull it off.  But I’m getting a little concerned.

Aren’t you?