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Alex Schleber
Mind Explorer.
Mind Explorer.


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~ "The Future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." ~ William Gibson

Ghost of Mediums Past...

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Was checking around here after prolonged absence for a moment, and came across this from April. As they say: When you've lost +Gideon Rosenblatt ...

Find me over on Twitter for Tech & Branding convo (politics separately elsewhere...):
Losing My Patience with Google+

Over the last six months or so I have watched as the quality of engagement here on Google+ has steadily declined. I have watched my follower count fluctuate and flatline. I have watched as people I used to engage with quite a bit here have left or dramatically scaled back their investments of time here. And yes, I have seen my own enthusiasm for investing time here wane significantly.

I ask myself why and the answers are never as simple as I would like. In the end though, I have come to the sad conclusion that the real thing that is killing Google+ is just plain bad management.

Lack of Attention
One gets the real sense that many of the people now charged with running Google+ don't really understand what it was that once made this service so good in its early days. Indeed, one gets the sense that few of the people managing the service today even really use Google+. There are a few noteworthy exceptions like +Yonatan Zunger and +Leo Deegan, of course. I once made a circle with some 50+ Googlers who were once active here, and when I click on that stream, well, it feels a lot like a ghost town.

+Bradley Horowitz, the VP in charge of Streams, Photos and Sharing, (which is where Google+ sits within the Google org structure) hasn't posted here on Google+ in half a year.

Oh, and remember +Luke Wroblewski, who used to manage Google+ and would send out all those updates on the redesign? Well, he hasn't posted a single thing here in over 7 weeks (even though @lukew is quite active on Twitter). You know why? I just happened to check his LinkedIn profile, and he's apparently no longer managing Google+. I don't recall seeing any announcement of this change - just a sudden silence from the man perhaps most responsible for the UI makeover of Google+.

Rudderless and Un-resourced
That decision to remake the Google+ UI followed a long string of decisions going back to the separation of Photos and Hangouts, each of which have seriously hurt the service. I know there were probably some good reasons to move to the new, mobile-dominant (as opposed to "mobile-friendly") UI, but the lack of enduser empathy from deprecating all the old functionality really was pretty staggering. Much of it hasn't come back, and much of what has is so stripped down (e.g. Events, community moderation) that it isn't really that usable.

As users, we have been asked to be patient and to have faith in the new strategy. Because I have been such a huge fan of Google+ for so long, that is exactly what I have done. I've been patient. I've believed. Believed that some big, cool fix was coming down the pike that would not only fix all the problems caused by the UI decision, but actually start innovating again with some cool new functionality.

Yes, we got Collections, and they actually are quite useful even if they do need a lot of work still. But that's really about it. It's been a couple years now and the silence is stultifying.

And finally, it hit me:

Maybe this is it. Maybe Google has significantly curtailed its investments in this network. Maybe the management squandered the scarce resources it did have on a redesign that users weren't really even asking for. And maybe, just maybe, what we see right now is pretty much what we're going to get.

User Investments
And this is where I start to get really mad. Like many others here, I have invested a lot of personal time and energy building a following here. Like many of you, I have poured heart and soul into filling this place not just with great content, but also with a sense of community. I could have made those investments in Twitter or Facebook or reddit, but like many of you, I made them here. And now I'm starting to wonder how smart of a decision that was.

All of this is particularly raw right now because I'm starting to play around a bit with the new distributed social network called Mastodon ( It's far from perfect, but one thing that is very different is that it is open source and federated, rather than centrally owned and controlled.

There are lots of implications to this different model. For one, there is lots of competition and innovation in the works because Mastodon sits on top of GNU Social and rests within a "Fediverse" of related, and interoperable, social network platforms. They are working on solutions that make it easy to export your content from one platform to another - to prevent lock-in. Also, there is a lot of visibility on exactly what investments are being made in the platform by various contributors.

More importantly though, there is a very conscious understanding that the value of these networks is only partially the result of the software developers behind these solutions. Just as much of it lies with the end users.

In the end, this is the thing that I am most frustrated about right now with Google+. End users have made this place every bit as much as the coders and product planners behind Google+. This isn't to in any way diminish the importance of those contributions. But what I do find frustrating is the way that Google seems to regularly dismiss the importance, and the real economic and social value, of end user contributions. This was true with Google Reader, and sadly it appears to be true with Google+.

I'm still rooting for Google+ to turn things around, of course. I have a huge soft spot for this place, given all the great learning I've done here with my fellow travelers. But one thing is clear: I'm losing my patience, and I don't think I'm alone.

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So it appears that the #WarOnWords, long felt and predicted by many of us, is reaching a crescendo this year:

"...If you had to guess which group of BuzzFeed’s content creators will be hit the hardest in the event of a “correction,” would you go with the incredibly prolific video division and its prized stars (who have large followings on Facebook, which is eating publishing) who may have scored exclusive contracts or... the people (once prized stars themselves) who just write [stuff]?

So who will protect the written word? The answer, ultimately, is probably no one. Some people do seem to be trying, but they must also hedge their bets. The Ringer, Bill Simmons’ second attempt at a Good Website, has so far amassed a staff that appears to be slanted heavily towards writers. And yet, the biggest announcement out of the shop so far is that it has partnered with HBO for a post-Game Of Thrones recap show. 

There are ethical questions that arise when a website that aims to carry the torch for cultural criticism teams up with the leading manufacturer of prestige television, but it’s no surprise that those questions have taken a backseat to, you know, getting the hell onto HBO.
This post is obviously a self-serving lament. Perhaps readers (well, viewers and listeners now) won’t notice or particularly mind as the amount of primarily word-based content pushed into their feeds shrinks. The market simply doesn’t provide as many writing jobs as there are people who wish to make their livings as writers, something that is the case in most “creative” fields. 

And, of course, there are likely to be even fewer slots for writers in our video-centric media future: The production of professional-quality video is hugely expensive compared to the production of words, and it requires significantly more behind-the-scenes labor than the current dominant forms of internet writing—blogging and personal essays. Resources will have to be shifted.

An explosion of video content probably means fewer distinct critical voices, overall. And probably fewer interesting ideas, as well. So far, the Content Internet’s video boom has not valued thoughtfulness and critical thinking. Since Buzzfeed’s viral watermelon detonation (already an epochal event in digital newsrooms), publications have suddenly tossed their writers in front of cameras to satiate the industry’s sudden and accelerating obsession with streaming stunts and experiments broadcast on Facebook Live. These streams have been light and goofy in a self-consciously amateur way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the videos are also, on the whole, unwatchable.

/cc +Alexander Becker +Max Huijgen +Steve Faktor +David Wood +Jon Henry +Cindy Brown +Lev Osherovich 

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#infosec  --- in case you still weren't clear on whether Chrome Extensions are an unacceptable security and #privacy risk...

I personally have had all but Ghostery and Buffer disabled/uninstalled for a good while now, and I probably should disable Buffer as well (never trust any extension for which you have not personally reviewed the code, or had it vetted by a trusted third party; also see the caveat in the excerpts below as to possible opaque extras being loaded in!).

I've written a few simple Extensions for my own purposes, and can tell you that it's not rocket science, making it all the more galling that Google hasn't put more of a lock on things in terms of security and privacy (most of these wouldn't need nearly as as extensive of permissions as they ultimately get granted because it's easier for the developers...).

And the following should really have the hair on the back of your neck standing up:

"...Google, claiming that Chrome is the safest web browser out there, is actually making it very simple for extensions to hide how aggressively they are tracking their users. We have also discovered exactly how intrusive this sort of tracking actually is and how these tracking companies actually do a lot of things trying to hide it.

Due to the fact that the gathering of data is made inside an extension, all other extensions created to prevent tracking (such as Ghostery) are completely bypassed.
This is an ugly one. Some third-party tracking services use a tracking script SDK inside the extensions. But the first time it runs, it replaces this code by making a few requests fetching new JavaScript-code and storing it in the extension’s file storage and saves references to the files in the local storage of the extension.

This makes it possible for the extension to constantly run and update arbitrary code controlled by the third-party not included by the extension from the beginning. Now, note that this file storage and local storage functionality is only because of the tracking scripts, not due to the functionality of extension itself.
Our guess is that this is a way to bypass any filters used by Chrome Web Store to identify malicious extensions and abuse of privacy. It’s also a great way for the tracking scripts to be auto updated, without forcing the user or the owner of the extension to update the extension.

They are sending over everything about you. Every. Thing. Even relations between websites that is only known by the current user, since the pages themselves are not linked in any way. They also steal all your cookies and OAuth access-tokens...

Oh goodie... I repeat, if you are running Chrome Extensions, you are extremely likely having your data exploited, or worse.

Note: I like Chrome, and use it as my primary browser, however I use a completely separate instance of Firefox to do all my online shopping, banking, etc. ONLY and nothing else, and that instance has no extensions, and is generally locked down as to tracking, with cookies limited to the actual sites I use.

/cc +John Blossom +Gideon Rosenblatt +Eli Fennell +David Wood +Alexander Becker +Ana Hoffman +Steve Faktor 

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This is about the best, most succinct metaphor to express things:
"...There is no reason to suspect that governments can better detect needles simply by building taller haystacks." Kudos!
Number of Attacks Foiled by Bulk Intercepts Prior to Last Friday: 0

Number of Attacks Foiled by Bulk Intercepts Afterwards: 0

There is no reason to suspect that governments can better detect needles simply by building taller haystacks. Unless terrorists' communications produce very distinct graph features -- and I find this unlikely -- then bulk intercepts aren't particularly useful. The evidence (such as it is) appears to bear this out. 

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#infosec #privacy  Public Service Announcement... #adblocking  just got "real-er"

(after the recent inception on iOS / Safari which caused quite the stir in Content/Media circles over on Twitter, but strangely got very little play over here on G+...)

...with Firefox drawing even, putting the power back with the USER where it belongs for a "User Agent" (as the "browser" has always been known in technical circles) - i.e. our "agent" should be on OUR side first and foremost, and protect us from endless, and often shadowy tracking and #surveillance .

(Which BTW can affect VERY REAL things even if you think "you've got nothing to hide" in terms of your Credit Rating, your cost of Health Insurance, asf.)

/cc +Steve Faktor +Edward Morbius +Alexander Becker +Cindy Brown +paul beard +David Wood +Shaker Cherukuri +Gideon Rosenblatt 

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Solid #branding  rationale, go with your greatest strength:

"...You may know us from such popular websites as Stack Overflow Q&A, Stack Overflow Careers, The Stack Exchange Q&A Network, and most of your Google search results. [for Web/technical subjects]

tl;dr - We’re changing our company name.
Here’s what’s changing:
- As of today, our company will be known as Stack Overflow.
- Our logo is different. But only a little.
Q: Are you “just not that into” the Stack Exchange network anymore?
No. Nonononono.

Our commitment to the Stack Exchange network is completely unchanged, and we’ll continue to invest in its expansion and growth. SE’s users have built a network of constructive, civil communities of helpers on a previously unheard-of scale, and we’re insanely proud to be a part of it. Here are just a couple of facts to drive home how much you’ve all achieved:

- The network as a whole has more monthly 5-time posters than English Wikipedia has 5-time monthly editors.

- Stack Exchange is the 47th most visited website in the US without Stack Overflow, and gets roughly as many US visitors each month as the New York Times.

/cc +David Wood +Sandy Fischler +Steve Faktor +Woozle Hypertwin +Ana Hoffman +Gideon Rosenblatt 

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*Preview on Y-Combinator's current YC Summer '15 batch via a handy ProductHunt (itself YCS14) collection* (complete with a PH-based vote ranking at that...)

...ahead of their Demo Day(s) starting tomorrow 8/18-19.

Feels overall a bit more frivolous than >> perhaps, also a lot of workforce-related entries, especially of the "on-demand"/contractor/etc. variety.

I've tested out >> however, and it feels pretty spot on... :)

For my own project I've also been having my eye on:
"Zeplin 1.0 - Collaboration & handoff for UI designers/frontend developers"

#bizintel   #startups   #ycombinator  
/cc +Gideon Rosenblatt +Gregory Esau +Rob Gordon +Sandy Fischler +John Blossom +John Kellden +Ana Hoffman +Deen Abiola +CJ Dulberger +David Wood +Steve Faktor +Daniel Estrada +Walter H Groth +Paul Simbeck-Hampson 

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#alphabet   #dns   #newTLDs  - The stupid, artificially constrained .com namespace needs to die anyway... it's a total anachronism of 1990s era Web technology, and if Google's use of the new for Alphabet makes a dent for the new TLDs, it can't come soon enough...

Also compare: "...Paul Graham ‏@paulg 8h
"Unless you're so big that your reputation precedes you"
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re: his post from a few days ago, which ironically dealt with naming/domain name issues for startups

"...If you have a US startup called X and you don't have, you should probably change your name.

The reason is not just that people can't find you. For companies with mobile apps, especially, having the right domain name is not as critical as it used to be for getting users. The problem with not having the .com of your name is that it signals weakness. Unless you're so big that your reputation precedes you, a marginal domain suggests you're a marginal company. Whereas (as Stripe shows) having signals strength even if it has no relation to what you do.

Even good founders can be in denial about this. Their denial derives from two very powerful forces: identity, and lack of imagination.

X is what we are, founders think. There's no other name as good. Both of which are false."

/cc +Gideon Rosenblatt +John Blossom +Gregory Esau +David Wood +Eli Fennell +Sandy Fischler +Steve Faktor 
You won't sell, huh? How about for 10 BILLION dollars? Seriously, ALPHABET, Inc. per se is unlikely to be a consumer-facing firm in the usual sense (though obviously various of its subsidiaries with other names will be). So if BMW wants to hold onto, das ist mir recht.

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"Google Photos... a visual equivalent to Gmail" --- I rather like this rationale.

Sounds like Bradley Horowitz has finally arrived where he wanted to be product-wise (and has pushed since launch... to the consternation of some of us... #waronwords ) in the first place: The photo-side of G+.

It also sounds like they did their homework (this time...) on #Privacy issues surrounding a vast personal photo database.

*As for the questions surrounding Google+, he got into a fair bit of detail in the interview. Potentially significant changes* appear in the offing (some  minor [...] inline commentary by me):

"...Google Photos faces extraordinary competition from the likes of Apple, Flickr, and any number of storage services, but the company has diligently leveraged its strengths to produce a product it hopes users will view as a visual equivalent to Gmail: a standalone free service with a premium option for more, super high res, storage.
[Bradley Horowitz:] We aspire to do for photo management what Gmail did for email management. Gmail wasn’t the first email service. But it offered a different paradigm of how one managed one’s inbox. We want to do that for photo management: To give you enough storage so you can relax and not worry about how much photo bandwidth you’re consuming, and enough organizing power so you don’t have to think about the tedium of managing your digital gallery.
Let’s talk about Google Plus, which you’ve been involved with since its beginning. Where is it going?

Three and a half years into this journey, we’re looking at what the users are telling us Google Plus is good for, and doubling down on those uses. For instance, one particular use-case on Google Plus is people aligning around common interests.

If I’m interested in astronomy and I want to meet other people interested in astronomy, we think we have a good solution — Collections, a new feature that we launched just two weeks ago. It’s the first in a series of pivots. We’re also *moving aside the things that either belong as independent products, like photos, or eliminating things that we think aren’t working.*

What things aren’t going to be there anymore?

I’m not going to divulge the product plans. You can *connect a couple of the dots yourself and understand what is working and what isn’t working.*

Let’s get back to Collections — can you describe the product?

It’s basically the ability for me to post topically. ...
Is it fair to say Google is distancing itself from the original concept of Plus?

*It’s fair to say you’re about to see a huge shift in what Plus is becoming. It’s a shift in response to what users are telling us.* That’s a very healthy and natural thing. As opposed to sticking to strategies of years ago, we’re actually adapting to how the product is successful in market and doubling-down on that.

Have you ever thought of dropping the name “Plus”?

I’m not sure what that would accomplish. It hasn’t seriously crossed my mind. *I think there are product pivots and refinements to what that product actually is. We have been less than clear about who that product is good for and who that product is for and what it’s good for.* I think you’re seeing us crisp that up and actually have a much better articulated value proposition so that that becomes very evident to users: what, when and why to use this product.

[my commentary: that feels terribly LATE in the game given that G+ is nearly 4 years old now...]

How successful was Google Plus in understanding who was using Google in general?

It’s created a huge amount of value in creating common identity for users. The Google of 10 years ago was many separate, silo-ed identity and sharing systems. I think we have been successful in unifying that experience for users. And anytime you see a name or a face on Google, our team provides the infrastructure.
(PR Person:) Can you just say it? Say that Google Plus is not dead, please.

OK, let me ask you — is Google Plus dead?

No, Google Plus is not dead. In fact, *it’s got more signs of life than it’s had in some time.*

Hmmm... "more signs of life" would imply that it in fact has BEEN in a semi-dead, as I've long called it, "zombified" state... let's hope these next steps reinvigorate rather than palliate...

#io15   /cc +John Blossom +Eli Fennell +Max Huijgen +Ana Hoffman +Shaker Cherukuri +Steve Faktor +Gideon Rosenblatt +Walter H Groth +M Sinclair Stevens +Lev Osherovich +Paul Simbeck-Hampson +Sandy Fischler
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