Believe it or not, that was a piece of "advice" that I discovered while trying to fix a problem with Google Chrome. The question was about a browser, but the answer was about an operating system. It was clearly not helpful, at least in dealing with my immediate problem.
On the other hand, pseudo-advice like that is very useful if you want to understand the state of the technology industry in 2010. It's the subject of this autobiographical psychodrama that I might entitle, Personal Computers Are Not Appliances. If you decide to read on, let me warn you: it's a terrifying tale of reasonable people at the mercy of unreasonable levels of complexity and unreliability. During this exposition, you'll encounter interesting characters like the Apple iPad, Google's business plan (of sorts), Marc Benioff, and our evil cat Kelly.
When Chrome Lost Its Shine
Yesterday morning was crunch time at stately Grant Manor. The quarter was coming to a swift end, which meant all kinds of deadlines for research documents, expense reports, client projects, and a variety of other tasks. Regular activities, such as phone calls with technology companies about their latest product and service offerings, still happen during these hyper-busy periods, when time becomes so compressed that it fails to serve its basic purpose of, in the words of Richard Feynman, preventing everything from happening all at once.
Eric Schmidt has seen the future, and it's "autonomous search." That's a fancy term that means "discovery." But no matter what words you use, it still means the same thing: more empowered consumers and greater value in earned media.
Some people are creeped out by portions of what Schmidt said, but he has suggested an exciting future for empowering people to create greater influence and be armed with timely, relevant, and useful information. At TechCrunch Disrupt, Schmidt envisioned a future where people and technology come together to create "a serendipity engine . . . a new way of thinking about traditional text search where you don't even have to type."
As you look into the future, the distinction between “search” and “discovery” gets muddy. While it sounds like science fiction to suggest that technology can help search for things you don’t even yet know you want, the opportunities to improve human discovery are very real. Combining a person’s context—where they are, who they’re with—with their past opinions and actions and the opinions and actions of others can create tremendous value and relevance.
I'm always surprised when there's a great deal of news buzz over something everyone knew was going to happen. When I lived in Milwaukee, we'd joke about the first snowfall of the year and the sorry assignment given the lowliest reporter to stand on a giant pile of municipal salt to report on the efforts to clean the streets. We all know it snowed, we can see the snowplows--what's newsworthy about this, exactly?
That's the way I felt reading all the headlines about comScore's report that time spent with Facebook exceeded Google in August. Any informed person knew the trends and expected this to happen, so whether Google or Facebook is No. 1 is less interesting to me than what the trend really means. This week's news is not as immediately dire for Google nor as immediately beneficial for Facebook as the headlines would imply. That said, the trends do highlight the fact that Facebook has succeeded where Google has not in creating a single, cohesive experience that gives today's consumers what they want.
When people hear the Google name, the first thing that comes to mind is the search engine which, of course, is not a place where people spend a lot of time--users search and leave quickly. But Google has many popular "sticky" sites, such as YouTube and Gmail, and despite the news, these sites are not losing attention. In fact, Google isn't shrinking while Facebook is growing, it's just that Google isn't growing as fast as Facebook.
Google has said nothing about its rumored social networking offering, but it may be that the company has just revealed its secret weapon to take on Facebook. The new Priority Inbox feature in Gmail hints at social media’s next great battleground: Relevance!
Facebook itself inadvertently demonstrated the value of relevance and what is most wrong with the current Facebook user experience. The Facebook Places announcement event two weeks ago was the geeky event you’d expect, but there was an unexpected moment of clarity and beauty in the midst of the typical discussion of APIs, partners and functionality. Facebook VP Chris Cox told a story set in the future that defines the true promise that social networking has yet to fulfill:
“In 20 years our children will go to Ocean Beach and their phone will tell them this is the place their parents had their first kiss, and here’s the picture they took afterward, and here’s what their friends had to say.”
It’s a great story, isn’t it? But today’s Facebook experience offers no chance this experience could actually occur. Instead, here’s what would happen based on the current Facebook functionality: Those kids will visit that beach and their parents’ precious story will be nowhere to be found on the Ocean Beach Places page. That wonderful 20-year-old status update and picture will be buried under 500 pages of less meaningful messages such as “Don’t buy a hot dog from the snack bar,” “Here’s a picture of some hot babes I took here,” and “Beach kegger party this Saturday night, dudes!”