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  • The nexus of digital life and IRL

    The nexus of digital life and IRL

    I've noticed these stickers popping up with increasing tenacity — and not just in San Francisco, although this shot is from Mission Comics and Art, a few blocks from where I live. 

    These stickers are a forerunner to a time when we will take for granted the connection between the digital and the real worlds, and be comfortable and familiar with asserting digital identities at regular intervals throughout our day. That we have to be reminded to do this today is just a curious circumstance of the times we live in — and the new behavior that will, in not too many years, be expected of us.

    It's happened with washing your hands, not littering, and recycling. It's not far off that we'll be shided to not forget to "check in at X site" upon arrival, or "leave a review on Y site" on the way out. These stickers prove it.

  • The price of media

    The price of media

    Yesterday I paid $4.37 for Wolverine #3 at Whatever Comics in the Castro (turns out I'm a big comic book nerd). Since I usually buy a dozen or so comics at a go, I hadn't really noticed the slow, steady increase in the price of individual comics. At less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, I figure a comic book is still a reasonable price, even if they're no longer in the $1-2 range.

    And then I read this article in the New York Times about the problems magazine publishers are having selling "magazines" on the iPad and iPhone... turns out that without a subscription, it's just too much hassle for users to go a buy a new issue every month, and people seem resistant to paying a premium for digital content.

    Reflecting on my own behavior, I see a similar aversion to buying digital comics, even though decent solutions like Comixology and Graphic.ly exist that serve that particular purpose. Instead — call me old fashioned — I like the tactility and visual excitement of purchasing the physical artifact. And I'll pay $4.37 an issue, but can't bring myself to spend $2.99 on the same content in digital form.

    Really begs the question: is this merely a generational thing, where collecting comics or buying magazines in the future will seem obtuse? — or is it that the digital medium of bits and pixels still still can't replicate the satisfaction one gets from owning and possessing discreet paper products?

    I'm just not sure, but until someone else figures it out, I'm sticking with my weekly Wednesday fix.

  • The power of a preposition

    I've noticed that a few networks are starting to elicit otherwise implicit relationship data to build out the edges of their social graph. Specifically, Facebook, Yammer, and Path all now ask you with whom you work, hang out, and do things:

    Yammer - Who do you work with?

    Facebook - Activities

    Path - At Path HQ with Mallory Paine, Lea Redmond and Matt Van Horn

    This kind of data will prove invaluable for determining the relative strength of ties, measuring interactions between people, and delivery relevant content between friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.

    I definitely think they're on to something big here.

  • In 2011 I will be Tasks focused

    It occurred to me the other day that my email infestation is actually more under my control than I might have been ready to admit.

    You see, I use this simple and devious feature of Chrome called "pinning tabs". It's easy — just right click on a tab and pick "Pin Tab":

    How to pin a tab.

    Instantly the tab minimizes to its favicon form and slides all the way to the left, cemented in place until you "unpin" it. This makes it super easy to access and find your favorite web sites and apps from that point forward.

    What I didn't realize when I started using this feature, however, is that what you pin matters. And what you pin leftmost matters most!

    As you can see in the graphic at the top of this post, for most of 2010, Gmail occupied pole position — always there beckoning me to check and see what new email had arrived. It was like my own silent-movie version of the "You've got mail!" guy.

    Even when I didn't have new mail. (Which was basically never. Sigh.)

    So, it's a new year dedicated to "fitness" and what better way to get productively fit than to banish my inbox from such a ubiquitous spot in my browser? My new experiment is to keep the stand-alone version of Google Tasks pegged up there, constantly taunting me with the work I really should be doing.

    So far so good. Who knows — maybe 2011 will be my most productive year yet!

    So, what are doing to ensure your productivity in 2011?

  • And then there was the Mac App Store

    Overheard in a coffee shop:

    "Hey, so did you know that there's now an App Store for your computer?"

    "Huh?"

    "Yeah, you know, like the one on your iPhone."

    "Oh yeah, uh, sure."

    "Yeah, it's cool so now you can install games on your laptop just like on your phone!"

    There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The Mac App Store is all about gaming. Let the solitaire begin!

  • Three decades on

    As of last Friday, I kissed my 20s behind and turned 30. I also completed my first year at Google.

    2010 was an interesting year, and seems to mark the end a long run-on sentence with a big, smudgy period:

    Nearly everything that defines me happened in my twenties — especially after my move from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in 2004. The decision to go west — instead of returning east, to where I grew up — put me on my current trajectory, and opened up opportunities that I never could have anticipated.

    From helping to launch Firefox, to organizing the first BarCamp, to co-founding Flock (recently sold to Zynga), to founding and co-running my own consulting company Citizen Agency, to opening Citizen Space and helping the nascent Coworking community get off the ground, to introducing hashtags and slashtags — my twenties have been an unprecedented time of exploration, experimentation, learning, and creation. And of course all this happened while watching and participating in the rise of social media and the social web.

    This raises a question for me as I enter my fourth decade though: how do I continue to create and contribute to the social web as my interests, experiences, and worldview drift further and further from that younger —and entirely more naive— perspective that allowed me to take the risks that lead to my previous successes? Will "growing up" lead my ideas to be more creative and more impactful? — or will they become less ambitious and less relevant to a new generation of technology users with different demands and expectations? Will the "openness" I've sought and championed be as important to competition and innovation over the next decade, or will closed systems and curated walled gardens become the de facto circumstance by which people experience and benefit from technology?

    I don't know. I'm really not that worried, but I do feel the ground shifting beneath me — and I do recognize that the relatively simplistic arguments about openness for openness' sake won't cut it in a world dominated by design-lead (and silo-bound) technological innovation. I remain optimistic though, and am actually looking forward to seeing the acolytes of openness (and interoperability) be driven to place a higher premium on design and user experience as a first principle. Looking back at the success of Firefox (and now Android), it's clear that it's not just "free" (as in freedom) that brings success to open and open source systems, but that building something "better" is also a requirement (free as in beer helps too, but isn't sufficient on its own).

    In particular, when I think about the challenges that OpenID and ActivityStreams and even OAuth must overcome in the next several years (problems which I expect to continue to work on), I think the solutions will come from as much user experience and design-lead innovation as technical enhancement. And that, given my training as a designer, is something that definitely excites me and gives me hope.

    While we're at it: the second half of 2010, by the numbers

    You may recall that I collated a series of stats on my five-month anniversary at Google (of course I'd intended to do it at 6 months, but my math was off). I decided that I should update those numbers, and add a few more to see how things have changed in the past half-year.

    ItemNumberPct. Change
    New photos and screenshots posted to Flickr 1,520 +6.2
    Total screenshot/photo views 997,563 +26.5
    New Google Buzz followers 948 +28.5
    New Google Buzz followers (internal) 188 +61.4
    New Twitter followers (12) 5,212 +28.3
    New tweets 1,739 +13.1
    Listed on a new Twitter list 619 +50.9
    New blog posts 6 (including this one) n/a
    New videos 3 n/a
    Total video loads 50,731 -35.1%
    Total video plays 9,024 n/a
    Interviews given 1 n/a 
    Talks given 1 n/a
    Views on slidedecks 11,559 -32.3
    Emails sent from my google.com email address 2264 +50.3
    Trips taken 9 -22.2
    Foursquare Checkins 1,433 n/a
    Foursquare Badges 27 n/a
    Instagram Followers 6,816 n/a
    Countries visited 1 -100
    Weekly status reports submitted 20 -10
    Office moves on Google campus 3 no change

    Not that these numbers mean a whole lot, but I am curious to see how they change over the next year, and which numbers will become more relevant and less relevant over time.

  • 2011 themeword: "fitness"

    #themewordFor the last four years, I've kicked off the year with a themeword — some word that helps me to focus on some kind of change or result I want to achieve over the next 365 years. This year I've chosen "fitness".

    Now, my first connotation with "fitness" instills visions of the gym and working out and huffing and panting and getting sweaty, coupled with a sour dose of pain thrown in just so you know it's real. And indeed, that's one  of the five areas of fitness I'd like to focus on this year:

    Health & fitness

    As I mentioned, the whole workout aspect of fitness is actually top of mind for me lately. Sometime last fall I realized that I creeped back into my old ways of relying on too much caffeine and not getting enough sleep and realized that I needed to make a change.

    Even though I used to go the gym, it seemed too aggressive to just jump back into it again, and decided to avail myself of one of Google's health coaches (yes, we have health coaches!). After consulting with Coach Kalen for a month or so, I decided to bite the bullet and join Fit Lite, a local circuit training gym, with Brynn.

    After getting back into a regular workout routine, Coach told me about a new experimental program that Google was starting up called Core Performance. He didn't tell me much about it, but suggested that I consider it — especially since registration would be limited to about 150 spots. After checking out the program, I tossed in my name and fortunately made the cut!

    Now, three times a week I work out in a center that looks like this:

    Each of those machines coupled with a storage unit set atop with a blue ball is an individual workout station. For an hour three times a week, I go through a workout routine that's been customized to me — based on physical and behavioral assessments. And though I've only been at it for a little over a month, I do believe that I'm seeing results.

    How can I tell?

    I started to track my health more aggressively, and challenge myself using a variety of self-tracking tools including Healthmonth, my FitBit, and Google Health. For example, this is the summary view of data being piped into Google Health from FitBit:

    I also just got a Withings Wifi Body Scale which allows me to record my weight and BMI — two measures that I hope I'll see going down and to the right in the coming year!

    So, the goal of putting all these things together (many of them are high tech, it's true) is really to bring about a better overall state of mind, and to help me feel better and more healthful in general. If not now, then when?

    Bonus: Spotify put together a pretty sweet collection of Workout Playlists from a bunch of major labels to help provide some hot beats for your routine. (Now we just need Spotify to launch in the US!)

    Relationship fitness

    So in addition to physical health, I believe that it's also important that I continue to work on my relationship fitness. This includes working on my relationship with Brynn (which I'd say is already doing very well after nearly 3 years!) as well as doing more to reach out to friends and family. 

    Since joining Google last year, I feel like I've become a bit cloistered down in Mountain View. I've certainly made new friends, but being on campus all the time has also resulted in experiencing fewer spontaneous outings and get-togethers, and I'd like to remedy that in 2011. Like physical fitness, it's going to take word and focus but is worth the energy.

    Financial fitness

    If you've known me for any amount of time, you'll know that money doesn't really motivate me. I'm more interested in solving interesting problems or working on exciting challenges with smart people than making bank. All the same, I's a growin' up — and that means being a bit more responsible when it comes to what I spend, and how I spend it. It also means being more aware of what I save, and now that I have a little extra, where to invest (it helps that Brynn's brother-in-law is a financial advisor!).

    Among other things, I'm trying to consolidate my accounts, shut down extraneous credit cards (I don't use credit all that much or have any outstanding debt as it is), and get a handle on how I spend my money (no surprise, but most of it goes to living expenses and food). I think I'm in good shape for 2011, but seeing as how money has been one aspect of my life that I've really ignored for a long time, I imagine I'll only get smarter about my financial fitness by year's end.

    Mental fitness

    A secondary benefit of working out your body is that you sleep better at night and tend to consume calories more efficiently — which can also mean improved mental acuity. I intend to spend more time exercising my brain this year — through reading and especially writing.

    You may have noticed, for example, that my [old] blog has gone dormant. That's not because I stopped publishing or writing! It's because my writing became more sporadic and distributed across many different surfaces (from internal Buzz to Facebook to Twitter to email!). As a result, my thinking has become a bit chaotic — where I seem to think in 140 character chunks, rather than complete, well articulated thoughts.

    To remedy this — and as a consequence of using Buster Benson's excellent Healthmonth — I've started writing 750+ word essays using a site called 750words (also by Buster Benson). What I love about this tool is the gestalt feedback it gives me after I spend 30 minutes just writing freely:

    This kind of daily dose of "what am I thinking about" motivates me to create, and in turn, helps to exercise my brain — even if I don't think I have anything good to write, it keeps my mental juices flowing and gives me a way to express myself that's both private and longer than 140 characters. If I can write even 50% of the time in 2011, I think my thinking will improve tremendously.

    Work fitness

    Now, of course one of the elephants sitting over there in the corner is a personal problem that I've known about for a long time. No, I'm not an alcoholic (but according to Threewords.me I'm a bit of a narcissist), but I am a serious procrastinator. I tend to work well under deadlines, but that usually leads to increased stress, poor planning, and now that I work on a team, poor communication and collaboration. In some ways, I've gotten as far as I have because I tend to work well in bursts and on my own — and when I was an independent consultant, that approach suited my talents just fine.

    But that's not the kind of work that I'm responsible for anymore, and it means that I have to learn to plan my work out more intentionally, and to communicate my plans and coordinate with others on their efforts so we can time things accordingly.

    I certainly think that I've improved my work style over the last year since joining Google, but boy do I still have a long way to go! 2011 will really about that — becoming a better and more productive worker, while continuing to enjoy and feel proud of the work that I produce.

    The runner-ups

    For a couple weeks I bounced around words like "create" or "build" or "velocity" for my themeword this year. Seeing as how I spent a good deal of last year "underground", I'd really like to have something to show for my (and my team's) efforts soon. These themewords reflect that desire, but ultimately my themeword is about me and my priorities for myself... I believe that we'll be able to show off our good work this year, and that will be more to do with how I conduct myself — and make myself fitter, happier, and more productive — than how I necessarily intend to change the world.

    So now that you know my themeword, what's yours? Leave a comment here, or tag your tweet on Twitter with #themeword!

  • Where should the OpenID Foundation go in 2011?

    In December of 2008, I ran for and was elected to a two-year term as a community representative on the board of the OpenID Foundation. That two year term expires this month. By the end the day today (November 29, 2010), I must decide whether I want to run for another term in the forthcoming board election, and if so, be nominated as a candidate and seconded by three other OpenID board members.

    This post outlines my current thinking about what's happened with OpenID over the past two years, touches on what's next, and ends with consideration about whether I should offer myself as a candidate for the 2011 board.


    To begin with, I think OpenID is in a good position today. Not great — but good. Is it in a better position now than when I joined the board in 2008? In some respects, it is. In many others — particularly ones that I care about — perhaps not. When I think about where OpenID should go in 2011 and 2012, I think back to the original aspirations that I had in 2008 and think about how few of them were achieved. It really makes me wonder whether there's enough soul left in the dwindling community to make things happen — especially the right things.

    The thing that I regret the most about my last two years on the board is how internalized and secretive the workings of the OpenID Foundation have become. I take partial blame for that — insomuch as I served as the secretary on the executive committee — but I also think that the timbre of the individuals changed since I started my involvement in the community. It's become more corporate. And the result was more backdoor politicking and much less consultation or coordination with the community. I mean, you can visibly see the change in the activity on the OpenID general mailing list, which ironically saw the height of participation (as measure in kilobytes) around the 2008 election:

    This has to do with our shift towards — as Executive Director Don Thibeau puts it — "The Mother of All Use Cases" — that is, the use of OpenID by the United States federal government. By switching our focus from more immediate consumer-facing applications of OpenID, we dropped the thread on use cases that offer the most universal appeal to smaller businesses and individuals — the very folks who had begun to invest in and benefit from the convenience that OpenID promised. And so, during the six to eight months that we spent on launching the Open Identity Exchange with the Information Card Foundation (a valuable contribution created before its time, natch) OAuth-based technologies (Facebook and Twitter Connect specifically) entered the marketplace and seized much of the momentum that OpenID had built up.

    As a result, most of the successful consumer-facing identity solutions today (including those from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare) rely on OAuth rather than the OpenID protocol. As these examples are likely the ones that consumers are most likely to become acquainted with over the next several years (especially in mobile contexts), it will be OAuth — rather than OpenID — that developers will seek out for identity-related applications. And this makes all the difference in the world.

    Why?

    Simple: OAuth is destined to exist as a simple enabling technology — a part of the plumbing that no one ever sees, but that everyone benefits from. OpenID, in contrast, is a brand masquerading as a technology. If the OpenID board focused on building the OpenID brand — using whatever underlying technology the market demanded — it could encapsulate so much more, from freedom to choice to usability and, yes, security. But that's not what the board — 2010's board — has focused on.

    By underinvesting in the foundation's primary asset (the power of its brand!), the foundation risks obsolescence or — worse still — irrelevance.

    But OpenID still means something to me (it's just a matter of convincing more people to buy into that vision).

    I see OpenID as enabling personal choice. I see OpenID as key to promoting freedom on the web. I see OpenID making it easier for people to connect and engage with friends and brands across the web. And I see it enhancing web security by reducing the number of credentials that any one person needs to manage and maintain. If we could just communicate those messages consistently and thoroughly to the marketplace — and make good on those promises — OpenID would be in a great position in 2011 (and beyond).

    Indeed, when I announced my candidacy for the board in 2008, my top three issues were:

    • establishing OpenID as a strong consumer brand
    • improving the user experience and ease-of-use of OpenID
    • enhancing the value of adopting OpenID for individuals, businesses, and organizations

    Not for lack of trying, but as an organization we've failed at all three of them.

    The market, meanwhile, validated the value of federated identity, improved the usability of single sign-on and federated login (with a single button that removes choice from the equation altogether), and delivered value to brands as diverse as Lady Gaga and Sears. Yes, some of these results can be attributed to the foundation, but certainly not all of them. And it may well be that most of them would have happened without the foundation at all.

    ...which bears directly on contemplating what comes next. After all, if we consider where we've found success previously (in ways that are unique to the foundation) where should we double down? While we deserve credit for convening a series of productive summits — how else do we quantify the impact of the last two years, especially in light of the opportunity that we had in front of us?

    I mean, think: if you could influence the future of online identity — the key driver of the next generation of social technologies — what would you do? Where would you begin? And what would you do next?

    This is the opportunity and the questions that dangle in the face of the board of the OpenID Foundation and that need to be directly addressed in 2011.

    If it were up to me, I'd argue that browsers and devices need to be altered to accomodate internet-based "connected" identities. To that end, I spent three months last year working with Mozilla to develop some designs for how that might look. And I've since socialized those concepts at Google and elsewhere. And now I'm working with Eric Sachs and others at Google to design what may become the next iteration of Google's sign-in UI (not a trivial task!) to support OpenID functionality. I've also been heavily involved in conceptualizing, branding, and socializing OpenID Connect (the next generation of OpenID built upon OAuth). And I've been an ardent defender and advocate for OpenID for the last three years. But maybe it's time for me to focus on shipping product, and on helping to turn Google into the best identity provider there is — relying on standards where they exist, and innovating on them where they don't. Maybe it's still early and maybe there's still a chance for OpenID Connect — or *Connect? — to grow legs without the help of a dedicated (albeit semi-dysfunctional) foundation?

     

    The good news is that people are starting to come around to the need for a technology like OpenID. But with that realization comes the bitterness of encountering how today's OpenID falls short. And it is those shortcomings that need to be addressed in 2011.

    I'm just not at all confident that the OpenID Foundation is the right vehicle to bring those changes about when I feel like I can have a greater impact in how Google approaches (and rolls out solutions for) internet identity — without having to spend time helping maintain a foundation that seems to have gone astray.

  • Facebook Messages and continuous partial conversations

    Update: MG Siegler (TechCrunch) has a post along similar lines, asking for a "Gmail Lite".


    Charlene Li has some insightful analysis of Facebook Messages, Facebook's new communication platform:

    What Facebook realized was that the world didn’t need another email platform but a better, more simple way to stay connected with the people who count the most in our lives – our friends. So Facebook boils messages down to just two things: friends and their messages. There is a simple idea behind this approach to communications:

    Friends define priority.

    I also think it's critical to consider how the next generation is growing up in a 24-7 connected world and that their norms and expectations just don't work with email's asynchronous-by-design behavior. 

    So, if we changed the form factor of email from this:

    ...to look like this?

    ...we'd be closer to how people use chat and IM and we'd likely change the style of conversation that occurs.

    With sites like Sentenc.es, evidence suggests that many of us struggle with email overload. As a result, we just don't have enough time in the day to respond to longer messages with long messages. Restricting message content with Twitter-like brevity is the only way to multiplex our communications without having to reduce the number of people with whom we interact on a regular basis.

    I think this is Facebook's realization, and the key insight that drove the design of Facebook Messages.

    This new modality — of "continuous partial conversations" — means that we can keep talking even if we change devices or are in a computing mode that's not synchronized with our friends.

  • Instagram: the camera app the iPhone should have shipped with

    InstagramIn talking to fellow Googler Brian Slesinsky about Instagram, it occurred to me that its crazy success so far is due to the fact that it's really the photo app that the iPhone should have shipped with iOS! No really — bear with me.

    Here are two points that support this realization:

    1. Monolithic systems — like yesteryear's feature phones which were all inclusive and couldn't be extended through apps — were confusing to users. You used the phone to do one thing: to make calls. Apps on superphones change this by giving users the option to make explicit choices about how they experience certain features, which in turn determines what they do.

      To draw an analogy based on a previous generation technology, choosing between Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox 1.0 was a non-rational decision if you consider the "internet" that each browser delivered... oh wait, they delivered the same internet! So what difference did your choice in browser make? Well, a lot. It was the implementation of the chrome around the core activity (web browsing) that made that decision meaningful to people. People chose the "Firefox version of the internet" over the "Blue E version of the internet", not really grokking the difference, but appreciating Firefox's superior and streamlined experience (i.e. no popups, faster speed, and tabs).

      So it goes with the app marketplaces: though several apps "do the same thing", they differentiate by the experience they offer in completing a task, and users can tell the experiences apart by app icon — so users can show their allegiance to certain "feature experiences" by clicking one icon over another.
    2. So it goes with Instagram and iOS's default Camera.app. 

      I can't really fault Apple on their camera app — it does what you'd expect, which is the same thing that all cameras have done since the beginning: capture moments of time in pictures. Which, by today's standards, is BOOORINGGGGG!

      Instagram is the first photo app that the iPhone deserves — availing itself of the network built into every iOS device (Wi-Fi or cellular) to enhance the photo-shooting experience — through sharing or consuming other people's photos. The filters help to create new kinds of meaning in ways that only a computer-augmented camera could (film cameras can't apply filters on the spot, and after the fact take loads of extra work and experimentation to get good results). Thus once people try Instagram, it becomes clear that the camera can become a communication tool (just as Twitter transformed SMS into a narrow-band broadcast channel for the masses) — as long as the process for creating and sharing photos is sufficiently accelerated and lightweight.

    So — apps make it possible to choose between different implementations of the same function; and thus Instagram provides a viable alternative to Apple's default Camera app which, frankly, should become the new default photo-making experience for iOS devices.