All Your Information Are Belong to Google

According to TechCrunch, the new Google Desktop will now store it’s desktop index on Google’s servers (if you opt to do so, and research shows that people will give out their SSN to total strangers).

This is exactly what I’ve been warning Google would do, although a lot quicker than I anticipated. It seems especially odd to do this during a press storm about Google and privacy.

Now, the feature itself doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s obvious why Google would want to mine your personal data and take it on their own servers without paying you (and charge you a toll to use it). It’s not obvious how this helps a user. Being able to search indices on multiple machines is nice; but that can be done by sending the queries to each machine. Being able to search index on a machine when the machine is turned off, seems rather useless.

But this is an opportunity to repeat the fundamental difference between Microsoft and Google philosophies. Microsoft philosophy for 20 years has been “information at your fingertips”. MSFT is all about pushing control to the edges, and enabling P2P scenarios. Google philosophy is “all the world’s information, stored on our servers, and charge a toll to get it back”. An edge-based, P2P scenario is superior technically, and the economics are better in the long run (except in the specific case of global metadata, which I explained in the whitepaper 5 years ago). But stuffing everything on central servers is an easier engineering problem right now, and this fact is enabling Google to make a massive land grab on the world’s information. Maybe it’s time to say, “no Mr. Google, the world’s information belongs to the world!”

Friendster. What Went Wrong?

TechCrunch talking about Friendster, asking “what went wrong”? In my opinion, the question should be, “why did anyone expect it to increase in value?”

The story of friendster illustrates several themes about Internet culture that I’ve talked about before:

  • Social Behavior is Fickle – people hang out at a physical place, because it’s the place they expect to find the people they want to hang with. Same with social spaces. And when a particular hangout gets old, that’s all there is to it. You can try your best to make your space “sticky”, to reward loyalty, but the other space is working just as hard to make it easy for people to transfer. If you track hot restaurants or party spots in any city, you already know this. It’s a terrible idea to think that a hot place will always be hot, that it’s hot because of some specific strategy that you can own, or that you can sink even more money into it to make it hotter.
  • People Ignore the Past – Everyone knows about IRC and Usenet. Why on earth did ICQ become big when it did? Do people remember Virtual Worlds, or some of the other 3D environments that were hot at one time? MUDs? People thought blogger was hot, until Xanga came from nowhere, and then Spaces blew past it in a few months. Today it’s all about MySpace and YouTube. But this has been happening for several years. 6 years ago, Geocities was sitting in the top 5. Between then and now, we saw several other “community” sites land in the top of the stats, including some Japanese one I can’t remember. The only thing that’s constant is that these virtual social spaces come, get huge, and go.
  • People Overestimate the Influence of the “Influentials” – Just because Esther Dyson is on the board, does not mean a space will be hot. Just because the space uses all of the latest buzzwords and priest-approved open-source methodologies and licenses, does not mean it will be hot. In fact, the vast bulk of HUGE, INTERESTING activity has caught the experts completely by surprise. Who thought that a bunch of Asian kids in the southwest US could bootstrap a phenomenon and cause Xanga to get big? Who thought MSN Spaces could do better than MSN Communities? The MySpace guys were not involved in any of the “insider” forums, didn’t team up with any rockstar technologists, but they’re at the top of the heap right now. And don’t even start with the thousands of kids practically living in online game spaces, farming for gold and relating to their friends. These virtual social spaces just dwarf anything that Friendster ever hoped to be.

In my opinion, managing a social space is way more about being a club promoter than about being a technologist. And sometimes being a good club promoter is knowing when a club needs to be retired.

The RSS Experience in IE7

Dare is on a roll, complaining about the RSS experience in IE7. He points to a bunch of people who say that IE7 isn’t an RSS aggregator, and then for good measure, posts again saying that IE7 isn’t like RSS Bandit (an RSS aggregator).

In fact, a week earlier, Jane Kim (PM for RSS in IE7) posted to Dare’s blog, explaining that IE7 is not an RSS Aggregator. Are you noticing a pattern here?

Dare says as much; IE7 was not intended to replace tools like RSS Bandit, NewsGator, or Outlook 12. It’s not a matter of trying to keep small ISVs in business, as much as a decision to put the RSS-Bandit style reading experience in the products where it belongs; namely Outlook and OE. IE7 doesn’t read NNTP feeds either; that’s what OE is for.

As for the argument that “you only have one chance to make a first impression”, I would just note that the orange XML icon has been on thousands of web sites for a long time. People already have an impression of what happens when they click on that thing. The user experience in IE7 is vastly better than IE6, especially with feeds that have some metadata. And the glide path from IE into an Aggregator like Outlook 12 or RSS Bandit is much shorter.

Now, you can argue that MSFT should build a full RSS Aggregator into IE. I would disagree (is Thunderbird hosted in a Mozilla frame?), but you can argue that. And you can argue that Microsoft should have delayed IE7 until Outlook 12 shipped an integrated aggregator experience, or you could even argue that IE7 shouldn’t have shipped without . But you can’t argue that the user experience for RSS in IE7 isn’t vastly better than IE6 for users and aggregator vendors alike.

Send Valentine

Plaxo today is showing a nifty new “Send Valentine” button in the Plaxo toolbar. Plaxo must know something about their customers that I don’t, because I never would have thought it convenient to bulk-send valentines to my contacts list.

On the other hand, Apple seems to be clueless. I pointed out the shortage of pink iPod minis last Valentine’s day. This year, you can get iPod Nano in black or white. The Nano is exactly the right price point, and is the perfect little gift of affection. Now, if they would have released a pink version, or done some custom packaging to commemorate the season, I bet they would double sales right now. I offer that to Apple for free (since they didn’t pay attention last time I pointed it out). And don’t tell me buy an iPod video and put a pink cover on it. This is too “geek”, it won’t pass the gf test.

And what’s up with the videos on iTunes? It seems like the best songs (e.g. “Outta Control remix”, “Your Life’s on the Line”) are available as video only. Now, I would happily pay the $1.99 per song if it could play on my mini, but I’m not going to lug around an iPod video just to listen to these songs.