Mike Stricker, May 18, 2013
Google I/O wraps up today, and now it's opportune to highlight the coincidences of trends and announcements that Google is trumpeting in their Google gloryfest. My approach is to examine each of the highlights from their 3-hour keynote (!) and point out, from a business and web user perspective, what's missing. Google has had their I/O… now, I get my Google I/O/U.
With assets such as annual revenues larger than that of all states except New York and California and Google Chrome's 750M active users, Google is becoming the steward of your future. ("Good morning to the Senator from the great state of Google!")
Google leverages their wealth of data and huge ad revenues to provide web users worldwide with free services. Americans are quite familiar with this revenue model. News comes in a free form, but you will be force-fed ads to earn the right to consume it.
In an effort to keep a clean balance sheet, it's time to consider, "What does Google owe me?" and "What do I owe Google"?
Unification of Google Services
Microsoft Office Suite. Adobe Creative Suite. User Experience has vaulted thanks to some of the most-visible integrations of programs and cloud support. Uniting apps and functionality common to a vertical is old news. (We won't even go into the controversy of 'subscription-based software' in the cloud). But it's easy to see the wisdom behind merging Google+ and other Google services. User interfaces have undergone cosmetic changes that make them much more consistent across services. The integrations must go well beyond superficial, and that behind-the-scenes sharing of data has begun. Sharing of data within Google is well within their Terms of Service, so there is no protest. But has their integration efforts gone far enough? Most think not, if you read the forums and comments.
Google I/O/U: More effective options to combine accounts for improved cross-functionality and User Experience. Merge Google+ Local (formerly Places), Gmail, YouTube, etc. Put users in control of how the merging works.
Google I/O/U: While I am at it, let me state that Google services require better interfaces. Across the board. Most users I consult with on a daily basis have the same disregard (and sometimes, disrespect) for Google User Interfaces and User Experience. They suck. The level of simplicity and cosmetic appearance has improved, but have they become more intuitive? Many think not.
Big Data is a Big Deal
Google has earned their seat at the Big data table (Hadoop, anyone?), as advertisers push the edge of peta-scale data accumulation and synthesis. Some appreciate the targeted advertising that results. Some are horrified by the creepiness of so much 'personal' data being shared and sold and acted on.
The lack of debate about whether this is creepy or cool, the technology industry has been ranked the world's most-trusted for the seventh consecutive year, according to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer.
At the same time, Android developer Dan Nolan of Australia found that Google provides programmer access to personal identity of app buyers, reviewers and trials.
Google I/O/U: There is nothing more valuable than User Trust. Earn it. Don't burn it.
Google+ has a lovely, new layout on the desktop that has been described as being more like Pinterest. More columns. Wow. More data visible at once on the screens of a dying race of desktop machines. Zzz.
Google I/O/U: Mobile experience of Google+ on iOS is only fair at best. It needs better profile edibility, for one thing. Make it so.
Cards are a visual nicety, that 'flip' over to reveal more data on the reverse (shades of MacOS 'Widgets'). This plays on a visual metaphor that is familiar to consumers, and provides a framework for greater use of that convention. Cards come in six 'flavors' and mix your habits, searches, commuting routes and more into an ever-tightening web of useful information.
Google I/O/U: Droid Voice Search and Cards have invaded iOS. How long before advertisers have the option to use the reverse of these cross-platform cards to flip to reveal Ads? Better still, ads that use all of the Circles, Search and other data to be tightly targeted, at massive scale?
Related Hashtags emerged from Google I/O as Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr and other Social Networks ride Twitter's coattails to parlay content keywords into an ecosystem that enables better-informed Search, brand messaging and tracking of trends. google's version will likely leverage their hoary old content analysis algorithm to discern keywords, and then their AI backend of search queries and subsequent search queries and personal preferences to add Related Keywords in the form of #hashtags. Excellent integration of a maturing user convention is on the horizon. Whether this becomes reflexive or intrusive depends on implementation, thus, it's a crapshoot, but worth the gamble.
Google I/O/U: Bottle that Related Hashtag ability. Make it a form of metadata (similar to Facebook's pervasive OGP) to reside in the Social Media, or, as an App that can be added. Open Graph Protocol affords Facebook an eye into one's off-network web activities, provides authentication services, and records Likes and other forms of interaction. Could Google drive in the harpoon to leverage a similar inside job on Facebook and other Social Media? If so, Google's own ability to provide incisive hashtagging could also feed those instances into search for general consumption. The mind reels at the possibilities. Better perception of social mentions for Google. Better and more immediate social monitoring for users, right there in their Search. For free, the Google way.
Auto-Enhance. OK, welcome to the club. Auto-Awesome. Better. Auto-Animations. All bets are off. The claim is that image processing and AI can store and examine all of your photos (those that you don't hide from Google) and integrate portions to arrive at a better result (described as gathering all smiling faces from a series of group portraits to amalgamate one image where every subject is smiling. Other features include Collages (which any graphic software can do), Animations (AniMoto and other web services have done this for years), Panoramas (heck, my daughter's Fuji digicam does that during shooting), Collections (from masses of uploaded photos). The good news and the bad news are simply two sides of the same coin. Yes, it's automated. And, yes, it happens without you.
Google I/O/U: Control, Privacy -- ask first. Give users an editing environment so they can have the fun. They will endorse the result better when they have put their fingerprint on it. Sharing will likely increase as a result. Oh, and please retrain all of those artists and photographers.
Google Talk Voice Search
Better than Siri? This could be the case, as Google sells the public back Google's accumulated knowledge of themselves (G+, Google Search, Gmail, etc.).
Google I/O/U: Conversing with a personal digital assistant (RIP, Steve Jobs) is fun and all. Give me the rest of the robot.
Music to My Ears
All Access, Google's newly-announced $9.99 monthly streaming music service provides interest-based 'radio station' playlist suggestions (patent issues, anyone?). It also enables local 'storage' of songs. Great. Rdio and Spotify must be quaking in their boots. Owing to the service's ubiquity, iTunes may develop a small tremor.
Google I/O/U: Wired magazine described the Netflix contest to inspire a better algorithm to surface "content suggestions" for movie-watchers. This is a huge challenge. Will it be any easier for All Access to stimulate users to more listening based on recorded interests?
A Google developer advocate announces that they, "want the whole world to play together". Development APIs come and go, morph and change, but their own Play developer API is now open and platform-agnostic. This goes beyond the "Open Garden" concept of moving one's gameplay fluidly from a tablet to a laptop. Games developed on this platform can be platform agnostic. Droid devices can play games against iOS devices and other platforms.
Google I/O/U: Riveting games.
On the desktop, more usable screen area will be devoted to map. Then, Google will now scatter data all over the Map. Connections. Nearby. Search data.
Google I/O/U: Be graceful in the visual interface. Some users will not appreciate clutter on the maps they are trying to see.
Google Fiber did not make it to the list of Keynote highlights. As their noble experiment proceeds, to provide connection speeds 100 times faster than most of today's broadband internet access, are consumers excited over the prospect of instant downloads and high-def communications? The tech industry, media execs and others in industry have been following the progress as it rolls out to more cities (experiment, or slow roll-out?). Yet, as disruptive as this could become, where is the hoopla? I recall a time recently, when networks ran to keep up with CPU speed. Now, CPU speeds offered by mobile devices and a faltering desktop PC industry will race to chase new throughput speeds. Whoa. Paradigm shift.
Google I/O/U: Testimonials. Consumers need to tell America whether Google Fiber has been a life-changing experience, or not.
Google's efforts to entwine 'products', combine knowledge bases, share user profiles, and cross-pollinate are well-received. This is a welcome attempt to make strategic sense of how, "Google's own services have been fragmented or confused at times", according to Google Android Leader Sundar Pichai.
After-the-fact, ad hoc hybridization is a sloppy, inefficient process. In addition to opportunity, it creates development dead-ends and evolutionary cul-de-sacs (anyone recall the duck-billed Platypus?). But that process is organic and evolutionary. God would have a plan. Google has a process. It burgeons, however inefficiently, into the future. Skynet, anyone?
Google I/O/U: Continue innovating, but for goodness' sake, don’t be evil. Have a plan, and share it.