There’s a lot of terms that indicate productivity dead-ends, but the latest that I’ve been trying to get rid of in my speech is “we need to”. While, yes, it is a term that’s often used when coming up with an idea that you want someone else to do the work on, what really bugs me about it is its lack of specificity. Who needs to do this? What are the steps involved? How are we going to get it done? It’s a phrase that keeps project managing from happening.
All over the place this morning, there’s been a common refrain about yesterday’s launch of Google Keep, the GOOG’s Evernote clone: Why should we trust Google not to yank it out from under us once we start using it? One of my favorite quotes was one that referred to last week’s shutdown of beloved Reader and posited: “It seems fairly bizarre to violate users’ trust so much, and then days later ask for it right back.”
I read these articles nodding in agreement, but then it occurred to me: so what if Google pulls Keep from us?
As they showed with Reader, Google is really good about making sure you can export your data. So even if you use Keep, you won’t lose your posts.
But more than that, this is a free service which is really convenient and could potentially make you more productive (or at least mean that you don’t forget stuff), but it’s far from vital. And while Reader was extremely useful (and vital for quite a few people) and it was very frustrating to get such a great product and then lose it on a corporate whim, it was, like Keep, still just a free service that was nice to use and little more.
It’s not that I don’t agree that we shouldn’t be wary of every shiny new product that Google tries to convince us to use, or that we shouldn’t be more wary with every product they take away from us, but let’s put it in perspective. If you started using Keep and then they shut it down, it would be nothing more than a disappointment, not an emotionally scarring event or an act of betrayal.
Yesterday, I had a good Twitter debate with Farhad Manjoo spurred by his assertion that the lesson of the demise of Google Reader is that “if you want software to last, you should pay for it.” Manjoo wasn’t the first person I’d heard say that same thing yesterday in all the talk about the demise of Google Reader, and the notion just doesn’t make any sense.
For starters, there’s the obvious: we never had a chance to directly pay for Google Reader. In fact, we don’t even have the chance to pay for Flipboard or Feedly or Bloglines or Hivemined. This argument only works for companies that have either a donation process or a pay version.
But secondly, this argument comes in the wake of a service—GoToCamera—that I’d been paying for for two years emailing me to tell me that they’d be shutting down in two weeks. In short: paying for something doesn’t do anything to ensure its stability.
Majoo’s second argument is that “you should make sure [services] have a biz model”. But why? As users of the product, we’re consumers. It’s investors that need to know what the business model is. Consumers use a product because it’s useful. Asking us to consider the business model of every new product we use is flat-out ridiculous.
More importantly is that if we only used products whose business models were clear, why would any of us ever have used Twitter? Or Tumblr or Posterous or any service whose only business model is “get tons of users and then start selling advertising”? And again, just because a product has a clear business model doesn’t make it any safer to use. Plenty of products shut down because they can’t sell enough, and just because you bought some doesn’t ensure their survival any more than if you use a free product whose long-term business goals aren’t clear.
Ultimately, to say those people who are sad (and angry) to see the end of Reader should have paid for it is an exercise in wanting to feel superior. Not only does it have zero bearing on the end of Google Reader, but the reaction is nothing more than that: a reaction. No matter how upset people are, it’s no more than if their favorite restaurant closed or a company stopped making their favorite product. You know…things people buy?
My friend Chris said he was looking forward to the book I’m going to write on how Google mismanaged Reader. I’m looking forward to it, too. It’ll be a real thrill to read since I’m not planning on writing it.
My first (and, so far, lasting) thought on Google’s condemnation of Reader to Google Death Row (beta) is that it makes sense for them, business-wise, for the same reason that Twitter is getting rid of it’s desktop Tweetdeck app (among other things). They have a finite number of developers and they want to concentrate those developer’s efforts.
In Google’s case, they want to concentrate their efforts on Google+. There’s no doubt in my mind that Reader’s demise has nothing to do with the size or habits of it’s user base, and everything to do with Google wanting to minimize the number of places besides Plus that people can look at links. Now, we all know that they’re crazy for thinking that the boneheaded interface of Plus is a substitute for Reader. Or for anything. But it’s obvious that the GOOG is determined to have you use Plus, dammit.
The other factor that I’m guessing is going into Reader is that, judging from the various RSS readers that I’ve seen over the years, from Bloglines to Hivemined, is that RSS readers are not easy to develop and seem to be a real PITA to maintain. Not that Google can’t manage it, but why put all the work into editing and maintaining software that’s only diverting your audience from your flagship product?
It’s all those working parts, development and maintenance that’s caused the downhill popularity (and the never-arriving mainstream popularity) of RSS in general. Feeds aren’t easy to create if you don’t have a system that makes them for you, they render in readers inconsistently, they’re difficult to get even marginally reliable analytics for, and they’re one more part of your site that you have to chase after. In short, RSS feeds from a site owner’s/business perspective: harder to maintain than social media feed with hard-to-see ROI. Is it any wonder more sites are letting their RSS feeds rot away?
It’s even worse from a user’s perspective. Yes, many of us have worked our content-consuming web lives around RSS for years, but have you ever tried to explain it to someone? “It’s like subscribing to a magazine! Well, you have to find the feed. If the site doesn’t put up the link, then you have to find the feed discovery icon in the browser bar (if your browser supports that). If it doesn’t give you the option to choose one of dozens of feed readers (you have to use a feed reader…pick one), then you have to copy-and-paste the link and then put it into your feed reader. And if the site doesn’t properly maintain the feed, then…tough luck?”
RSS always desperately needed someone to come up with an easy way to subscribe; something like the Facebook like button where you can simply subscribe to an RSS feed; something where we could quit calling them “feeds” and have it be a clear subscription. And something that was extremely easy for site owners to provide for their customers and had a clear business use. But that never happened. So site owners AND consumers slowly quit using it.
Back to the original question, though: I think that Google’s mismanagement came not in the direct decisions regarding Reader, but in the mismanagement of Google Buzz and Google+.
In Buzz, they had the perfect social network. Yes, seriously. The concept was simple and easy: take your blogs and shared articles and put them in a feed with the ability to post a status. But then they forced it into gmail and forced your friends/connections. The same concept into a standalone app with individual friend selection would have been a fantastic social network.
In Plus, they’ve pushed a flawed concept (Circles) and a terrible design in which a single story will take the entire screen real-estate and tried to make it be all things. If, from the very start, they had just kept Reader sharing exactly as it was, except that your shares showed up to Circles that you decide on, it would have made Plus rich with content and conversation. But instead, they’ve shut down the interactive site that lots of people use in an attempt to get us to use another interactive site that’s a different thing altogether.
Since Reader’s sharing was shut down, I’ve turned much more to Twitter (and more specifically, the columns of Tweetdeck). It’s not a great place for conversation and debate, but it’s the best place for curated articles from the connections that I choose, and that’s what I always loved about Reader.
This is a really important angle around the story of Yahoo forcing all its workers to come into the office. Again, I love the flexibility of being able to work from home, but there are communication problems (not to mention productivity problems) that have to be addressed in order to have quality remote collaboration. If they’re not addressed, working remotely will be unproductive.
To put it lightly, the news that Yahoo is requiring all of its telecommuting employees to start coming into the office was not taken well by the tech-osphere (is that a thing?). This post (by the makers of a virtual-collaboration software, not coincidentally) reckons Yahoo will start losing employees to it because they’re not as desirable a place to work as Google or Apple. Enh. Maybe.
But while I consider my ability to work a day a week from home to be a huge perk of my current job, I also think that there’s a lot that gets lost when people work from home all the time. Most of what gets lost is what Yahoo says they’re trying to improve: communication and collaboration. Quick conversations and, maybe more importantly, casual conversations that turn into work ideas are infinitely better when everyone’s in the office. Email, IM and Google Hangouts are great, but it’s much harder to have informal and quick conversations, and the more formal conversations take much longer to have when typing everything out and waiting for responses.
I think it’s still possible to be highly productive with a team when working from home. But in-person collaboration is much quicker and more effective, and pretending that emails, IMs and video conferencing can totally bridge that gap is just not right.
Considering that Yahoo is trying to rebuild their company, I don’t blame them one bit for telling people that if they want to be part of the team, they’ll need to physically be part of the team.
I love this quote. As pessimistic and cranky as I can be, I truly believe thinking that anyone is “stupid” is always a dead end and a sign that you’ve quit thinking of ways to improve. The answer to problems lie as much (if not more) in changing the processes rather than changing thepeople.
While I love living in a time when so much information is available, it’s hard to avoid the ugly fact that lies—both biased and satirical—are often (usually?) presented in exactly the same way as absolute source. We should be living in a time where facts vastly outweigh biases and lies, and yet we see that’s far from true.
So it’d be great to have a site that takes a “citation needed”-like eye to the internet and gives a reference point for which sites are worth taking as actual news and information and which aren’t. If you read some unbelievable-sounding article somewhere (like some of the Onion and Daily Currant articles that get passed around as true), you could either go to this reference site (or even have a plugin that will display whether the site is trustworthy as news), you can know whether this it’s a site you could trust.
The upside is that we move more people towards the kind of trustworthy information that we get on Wikipedia, doling out badges to those sites that prove themselves as fact-checking, reliable sources. The downside is that it would need a literal translation of what is trustworthy, and the site owners would have to be trustworthy and unbiased themselves.
And, of course, people would have to actually use it.
Apple defenders always obsess over the profits and stock prices, and while Majoo’s article here acknowledges in the very last sentence that Apple needs to do a little more than just make money to prove its post-Jobs worth, this is another lack of acknowledgement that Apple has spent the last year being wholly underwhelming:
- iTunes 11 was a big misstep that fixed nothing and broke several things.
- The iPad mini was one of the first times we’ve seen Apple clamoring to answer its competitors rather than the other way around.
- The iPhone 5 was an even smaller step up from the 4s than the 4s was from the 4, suggesting Apple is no longer capable of delivering big when they promise big.
I’m not saying that Apple is going to go bust or anything, and they’ll still have at least several more years of sick profitability, but as many people have pointed out recently, Google is the tortoise to Apple’s hare. Their iPhone apps are better than Apple’s and the Android share is growing, and even if their two breakthrough products—Glass and self-driving cars—aren’t much more than things to keep us excited, they’re keeping us excited. Apple is not. And isn’t that more than enough for us to wonder if Apple is no longer capable of being the exciting, leading company that made so many of us pay for those “premium products”?
The redesign process is broke. Redesigns shouldn’t mean a complete redo. It means making little changes that have the most impact. #uxtchi
— Adam Mc. (@McAtoms)
I love this. There’s a tendency to believe that a visual problem (or perceived problem) with a website requires a redesign to fix, and then going through a long, complicated, expensive process that usually doesn’t solve the problems. It’s like not liking the paint color on your walls so you demolish the whole house. It’s done entirely because people can’t think of anything except “Redesign!” It’s almost always a mistake.
There’s a lot to hate about Google Plus. Google has been ridiculously pushy about a product that offers very little that other products don’t. The design is poor—one post with a couple comments takes up the entire real estate—and the mobile app pushes an “immersive” experience, as though that’s what we really needed. Circles are high-maintenance and the wrong way to go about content management and Google is pushing us all do to more: more people in your circles, follow more people and brands, join more communities. MORE.
But there is one good thing about Google+, and that’s that it acts as the glue between all Google products, most notably your contacts, where your address book is updated with the people who are in your circles. Even if the social side of Google+ fails, that connection is still highly valuable, and it’s important that people both keep their information current and that they expose it to at least their Friends circle.
Of course, this is what a lot of the initial arguments in favor of Google+ put forward: that it’s not a social network, but a way to link everything together. That doesn’t account for why Google has been so forceful with the social aspects of Plus, though. If it’s not a social network—if it’s not a Facebook clone—then why are they launching communities, Pages, and pushing us to put more people into our circles?
Here’s to hoping that they’ll continue to make the contact aspect even more useful, even if they don’t do the same for the social parts.
Great post (with some quality software recommendations) that hits the nail on the head about how I feel about tech: I’m curious about it and love exploring, but when it more maintenance than creation, it’s no longer useful to me.
I love this concept of “high-friction sharing” that Bandcamp is going with. It’s more risky, sure, but a knowing share is worth much more than an ignorant share.
A couple of months ago, Gmail created some new search operators that allow you to find emails that are older than x number of days or weeks. I was thrilled to read this, assuming that it would mean I could get the feature of Gmail that I’d long been hoping for: a filter that automatically archives old messages from my inbox, meaning that I would no longer have to go through my old email and archive it manually.
Unfortunately, that still doesn’t work. You can create a filter with the new search operators, but since filters (apparently) only work on incoming email, your filter just sits there, doing nothing.
But I did find a way to combine these new search operators with the Quick Links lab feature to at least make it easier to archive older read messages in my inbox. Here’s the recipe:
- Turn on Quick Links if you haven’t already (go to Settings, then click Labs, then search for Quick Links and enable them and click Save).
- In the Gmail search box at the top, type in this search term:
in:inbox is:read older_than:14d
- In the Quick Links area, click “Add Quick Link”, which will create a new entry for you and will allow you to give it a title (I called mine “Old Inbox Messages”).
Once you’ve done that, archiving older inbox messages is as simple as opening up the Quick Links box, clicking on “Old Inbox Messages”, clicking the checkbox up at the top to select all messages that match that search and then archiving them. Yes it would be nice to have it be automatic, but this is still a lot better.
Also: I also created an Unread Messages Quick Link (“is:unread”), which can be really handy when getting back from a vacation and going through all the email that’s piled up in all your different folders.
It’s a simple problem, but one I came across often in Dreamweaver: how to change out a set of tags while leaving the text between the tags intact. Here it is for reference.
If you to change:
<div id=”messy_header”><div class=”messy_headline”>This Is A Headline</div></div>
<div class=”clean_headline”>This Is A Headline</div>
Then this is what you put in the search and replace dialog in Dreamweaver (regular expressions in bold), making sure to check off the “Use regular expression” option:
Find: <div id=”messy_header”><div class=”messy_headline”>(.*)</div></div>
Replace: <div class=”clean_headline”>$1</div>
I don’t doubt that there are tons of better solutions (not to mention better software). If you have a better solution…well, that’s why installed comments here. Fire away.