Steve Jobs on unintended uses of tools

A choice quote from an all-around inter­est­ing interview:

The point is that tools are always going to be used for cer­tain things we don’t find per­son­al­ly pleas­ing. And it’s ulti­mate­ly the wis­dom of peo­ple, not the tools them­selves, that is going to deter­mine whether or not these things are used in pos­i­tive, pro­duc­tive ways.

–Steve Jobs, 1985

Google+, the best Multiply.com clone ever

First, a word of dis­clo­sure: I worked for Mul­ti­ply for near­ly four years. This means I know what I’m talk­ing about. I also no longer have any finan­cial inter­est in their suc­cess. This means I’m prob­a­bly not that biased. Oh, and I only wrote this because I felt like it. This means nobody asked me to.

I had the good for­tune of receiv­ing an ear­ly invite to join Google’s vaunt­ed, Facebook-killing, world-saving, next-generation-social-network Google+. There’s a lot of shiny new­ness to be excit­ed about; Google seems to have brought a few new inter­est­ing ideas to the table vis-à-vis shar­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing. They also seem poised to intro­duce the mass­es to a few good ideas for privacy.

In terms of pri­va­cy options, Google+ lets you:

  1. …sep­a­rate your con­tacts into dis­tinct “friends,” “fam­i­ly,” etc. buckets
  2. …share con­tent pri­vate­ly with each of these groups
  3. …fil­ter your view when con­sum­ing con­tent post­ed by each of these groups
  4. …use this ‘extend­ed net­work’ con­cept to share beyond your direct con­tacts, but still less than the entire world

They’re also rather old ideas.

I joined Mul­ti­ply in late 2005 as a mar­ket­ing copywriter/company blog writer/customer ser­vice person/wearer-of-other-hats, and by that point, Mul­ti­ply had already fig­ured out a solu­tion to the prob­lem of shar­ing con­tent pri­vate­ly among all the groups of peo­ple you know. In fact, by then they had been at it for about two years. See the fea­tures list­ed above? They were all at the core of the product.

Not impressed? It’s impor­tant to remem­ber what the social net­work­ing land­scape looked like back then:

  • Peo­ple had already fig­ured out that Friend­ster was kind of garbage.
  • Peo­ple had­n’t yet fig­ured out that MySpace was com­plete garbage. It was huge­ly pop­u­lar by mid-2000s stan­dards, but many times small­er than the Face­book of today.
  • Face­book (okay, “thefacebook.com”) was open to users at a bunch of col­leges, but out­side of that, was­n’t real­ly a big deal.
  • Twit­ter (“twt­tr”) did­n’t exist.

Oh yeah, and here’s what pri­va­cy looked like:

  • Friend­ster: Who the fuck remembers?
  • MySpace: Gave you the option of mak­ing your pro­file entire­ly pub­lic to the world or entire­ly pri­vate to your con­tacts… all of your contacts.
  • Face­book: Your pro­file was avail­able to all of your con­tacts, and every­one else in your “net­work” (which at the time meant every­one who went to your col­lege). You could­n’t make any­thing public.
  • Seri­ous­ly, you guys… Twit­ter did­n’t exist.

Okay, so we’ve estab­lished that pri­va­cy was­n’t much of a con­sid­er­a­tion in ser­vices of the day. But maybe it is today…?

All the Google+ pri­va­cy fea­tures you love — here’s how Mul­ti­ply did ’em:

1. …sep­a­rate your con­tacts into dis­tinct “friends,” “fam­i­ly,” etc. buckets

Google+ today gives you the option of putting your friends and fam­i­ly into neat lit­tle buck­ets (they call them “cir­cles”). Mul­ti­ply made you do it. When adding a new con­tact or invit­ing some­one to join you on Mul­ti­ply, you’d have to pick a “real world” rela­tion­ship type. There were dozens to choose from (friend, cousin, neigh­bor, boyfriend, work super­vi­sor, etc.). There was also “online bud­dy,” which was for con­nec­tions to peo­ple you did­n’t know very well. Online bud­dies would be kept slight­ly at a dis­tance, kind of like “acquain­tances” on Google+.

2. …allows you to share con­tent pri­vate­ly with each of these groups

Hav­ing these rela­tion­ship types on record let you share every­thing in friend/family/professional buck­ets like Google+ does now with cir­cles (oh, but minus the pro­fes­sion­als). You could share pri­vate­ly with one or more of these groups, giv­ing you essen­tial­ly dif­fer­ent net­works under a sin­gle account. It bog­gles my mind that even today, some peo­ple have mul­ti­ple Face­book accounts just for the sake of keep­ing their worlds separate.

3. …fil­ters your view of con­tent post­ed by these dif­fer­ent groups

You’d most­ly be con­sum­ing con­tent on Mul­ti­ply through a tool that went through a few names (“Mes­sage Board,” “Explore Page”) but ulti­mate­ly became known — some­what unfor­tu­nate­ly — as the “Inbox.” What was this like? Think of the Face­book “News Feed,” only a few times bet­ter… and a few years ear­li­er. On Mul­ti­ply you could use the Inbox to view the lat­est posts and con­tent from your con­tacts. On MySpace and Face­book, you’d be bounc­ing from pro­file to pro­file to see what was new with your friends — great for page view met­rics, crap­py for user expe­ri­ence. :-) The Inbox also let you eas­i­ly fil­ter your view to include con­tent and updates from many of your con­tacts’ con­tacts, and option­al­ly (and to a less­er degree), your con­tacts’ con­tacts’ con­tacts. How far ‘out’ into your net­work you could see depend­ed on the rela­tion­ship types you and your con­tacts had chosen.

4. …use this ‘extend­ed net­work’ con­cept to share beyond your direct con­tacts, but still less than the entire world

With this infor­ma­tion, Mul­ti­ply would pro­vide con­text when explor­ing your net­work. Enforced rela­tion­ship types made it clear to your con­tacts just who the oth­er peo­ple you knew were, which pro­vid­ed extra con­text for social inter­ac­tions on Mul­ti­ply. Would­n’t it be nice if when you’re about to meet a new per­son in real life, some­one would tap you on the shoul­der and whis­per in your ear “that’s Alice, your friend Bob’s sis­ter.” You’re damned right it would. You’d see this infor­ma­tion all over Mul­ti­ply, whether con­sum­ing extend­ed net­work posts in your Inbox or read­ing the com­ments on a friend’s post. Google+ can’t do this, because it does­n’t know who these peo­ple are, and Friend/Family/Acquaintances/Following is some­thing Google+ con­sid­ers a pri­vate dis­tinc­tion… which on the oth­er hand makes some sense, due to some com­plex­i­ties of inter­per­son­al relationships.

My point is…

But when you hear some­one ask why it took until 2011 to devel­op a sys­tem that allows you to share in a some­what sane sense, kind­ly enlight­en them. I was there, I heard the world cry out for a bet­ter mouse­trap, and I watched the world not beat a path to Mul­ti­ply’s door. If there were a prize for being first, it’d be a plastic-gold turd tro­phy inscribed “LOL.”

I’m not say­ing that every­one should go join Mul­ti­ply. Odds are, nobody you know uses it anyway.

So, con­grats on the splashy beta, Google, but remem­ber: peo­ple say they want pri­va­cy, but just want to be where their friends are. Good luck com­bin­ing the two.

goatse mobile

I had a strange moment of serendip­i­ty ear­li­er this evening.

I was read­ing some RSS feeds and I saw there was a new post to the Flickr tag “first­goatse.” (If the term goatse is new to you, I’m not sure what to say except: don’t blame me when you look it up… now. The above link is safe to view, by the way.)

I felt like I had­n’t seen a ‘first­goatse’ in a while, so I checked it out. The pho­to itself was unre­mark­able, but I was view­ing it on my Nexus S phone and hap­pened to glance away from the screen, at the phone itself. Some­thing clicked in my head, and I thought of a way to breathe new life into the age-old pas­time of show­ing your friends dis­gust­ing images and cap­tur­ing their hor­ri­fied reac­tion for shar­ing on the Internet.

HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS WE ALL HAVE SMARTPHONES WITH FRONT-FACING CAMERAS!! (It must be the future!) These tiny pock­et devices are cor­nu­copias of giv­ing: lulz for us, lulz for the Inter­net, and hor­rif­ic, can-ever-forget mem­o­ries for our friends!

Basi­cal­ly, what the best app ever would do is dis­play a hor­rif­ic image of your choice… self-supplied of course, in case your poi­son is more tub­girl, or what­ev­er kids these days show oth­er kids these days. It would also cap­ture the reac­tion of the per­son hold­ing the phone via the front-facing cam­era, at the very moment of exposure.

A series of pho­tos lead­ing up to the moment would work nice­ly too. Heck, what about cap­tur­ing a video of the entire reac­tion? For all I know, kids these days are show­ing each oth­er the video equiv­a­lent of that guy bend­ing over and… ugh. For bonus points, it might even com­bine the orig­i­nal and reac­tion videos into one, side-by-side, not that any­one would want to ever view that.

I’m ready to believe that a mobile app like this already exists. It clear­ly, how­ev­er, can’t exist for iPhone, because Apple does­n’t allow that brand of awe­some, and I can’t be both­ered to check the Android Mar­ket (aside from, okay, my quick search for “goatse,” which turned up noth­ing), but this is clear­ly the kind of app that the wold today could use.

Well, there’s a Mac app, but who can fit that in their pocket?

Hey world — some­body make this!

IT work for no fun and no profit

Hey non-heartless geeks, how do you avoid becom­ing some ran­dom per­son­’s com­put­er guy1?

I was just blind­sided by my friend’s aunt and before I knew it, I was show­ing her how to use her lap­top’s right-click but­ton to delete unwant­ed desk­top short­cuts in Win­dows XP. Then, she want­ed to know how to delete a book­mark from her Inter­net Explor­er bar.

She scared me on the last one, though; through her bro­ken Eng­lish, she seemed to be describ­ing an unwant­ed brows­er tool­bar, and warn­ing sirens went off in my head as I start­ed think­ing I was going to be asked to remove one of those. Then, as she cursed Inter­net Explor­er while it took near­ly a full minute to load, I had to fight the urge to make a quick exit through the win­dow — closed and locked, of course — before I could be asked about remov­ing spy­ware or defrag­ment­ing. I almost sug­gest­ed she just buy a whole new com­put­er, before real­iz­ing that I could just as eas­i­ly be con­script­ed into help­ing with that.

Ugh. It turned out to be sim­ple stuff in the end… but this is how it always starts.

Before I know it, I’m going to be fix­ing her router, before trou­bleshoot­ing her DSL prob­lems, before being roped into advis­ing her on which of the pro­grams that she installed on her com­put­er she no longer needs and can be removed to free up space on her hard dri­ve.2

Proof that there is no god: I look the part.
This is bug #2. Let’s fix this.

  1. Did that term sound sex­ist? I meant only to refer to Nick Burns, my tech sup­port hero.
  2. This is actu­al­ly a true sto­ry.

tinygeek

In lieu of actu­al con­tent for the month of Feb­ru­ary, allow me to present to you some junk I just threw together.

I cre­at­ed a lit­tle ‘me’ fav­i­con for writegeek a good while ago, but it nev­er real­ly occurred to me until this evening that it was in black and white, and not for any good rea­son, at that. I guess it match­es my cur­rent theme, but that was­n’t my intent — or my theme — at the time I cre­at­ed it.

So I added some color.


Here is the orig­i­nal version.


Here is a new ver­sion I was con­sid­er­ing. While it bet­ter rep­re­sents the shape of the, um, pointy thing my hair does, it makes my hair as a whole look thin­ner than it actu­al­ly is.


Here is what I ulti­mate­ly went with: the orig­i­nal ver­sion with col­or. I think it’s a pret­ty good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of my hair, and reminds me why I did­n’t try to get too real­is­tic in the first place.

Cre­at­ing a fav­i­con is a pret­ty cool chal­lenge… at 16x16 pix­els, talk about a lim­it­ing medi­um! Its lim­i­ta­tions help, though; I’m not real­ly visu­al­ly tal­ent­ed, so there isn’t any expec­ta­tion of any­thing com­plex. It seems like, for the most part, there’s real­ly only one way to do things.

It’s also pret­ty amaz­ing what a cou­ple of pix­els’ dif­fer­ence can make.

Thoughts? Feel­ings? …Improve­ments?

Nexus S review

Owing to its sta­tus as the cur­rent hot Android phone, the rep­u­ta­tion of and con­tin­u­ing sup­port for the Nexus One that came before it, and the Nexus line’s no-crapware, pure Android nature, last month I made a Sam­sung Nexus S my next mobile phone.

My pre­vi­ous phone, for ref­er­ence, was the first Android device, a T‑Mobile G1 (HTC Dream).

I like almost every­thing about Nexus S. The device is, for the most part, blaz­ing fast, smooth and com­plete­ly open.

By “open,” I mean:

  • It’s sold SIM-unlocked, mean­ing I can switch between almost any ser­vice provider. This isn’t very use­ful on a dai­ly basis, but is a great option to have for inter­na­tion­al travel.
  • Gain­ing root access to the phone is sim­ple. Rather than rely­ing on a secu­ri­ty hole to get root, Nexus devices have offi­cial sup­port for unlock­ing the boot­loader, which opens up the phone to what­ev­er you want to do, installing what­ev­er you want, etc.
  • Even if you don’t root, the Nexus S — like all Android devices — is “open” in a very prac­ti­cal way: apps can be added to these devices from any source you as a user deem wor­thy. If Google does­n’t see fit to include a giv­en app in the Android Mar­ket for what­ev­er rea­son, the devel­op­er can pro­vide an .apk file how­ev­er they like, and you as an adult can make up your own mind as to whether you want to use it.

Here are a few things I like:

  • It’s fast. There’s almost nev­er a hic­cup in run­ning apps, switch­ing between them, hav­ing calls and mes­sages come in when you’re doing some­thing else, etc.
  • Front-facing cam­eras may be stan­dard these days, but I love final­ly hav­ing one in my phone. Just need video sup­port in the Skype app…
  • The screen is amaz­ing. It’s bright, high-resolution, and the glass is actu­al­ly curved, which lets it sit face-down on a table with­out scratch­ing, fit the cur­va­ture of your face, and as some have sug­gest­ed, there are ergonom­ic ben­e­fits for your thumb as well.
  • I don’t know the specs, but the bat­tery life with active use seems way bet­ter than my G1.
  • Lots of onboard stor­age. 16 GB may not be enough for some peo­ple, but it is for me, and I pre­fer this over deal­ing with a slow, unre­li­able microSD card.
  • Small touch­es like the afore­men­tioned curved glass, head sen­sor that dis­ables the screen dur­ing a call, ambi­ent light sen­sor for auto­mat­i­cal­ly adjust­ing screen bright­ness make for a nice experience.

Here are a few things I don’t:

  • The brows­er some­times lags a bit while scrolling web­pages with mul­ti­ple large images. I don’t see a lot of this, so it’s not that annoying.
  • No 4G. Of course, T‑Mobile does­n’t have “true” 4G ser­vice, and 3G speeds are enough for web brows­ing… and almost every­thing else I usu­al­ly want to do. Where this has been a prob­lem for me is in stream­ing high-quality music using the Last.fm app; the play­back very often catch­es up to the load­ing. That said, I feel like Last.fm may be part­ly at fault too, as the app seems unre­li­able in oth­er ways that make me doubt it.
  • In-browser Flash per­for­mance sucks, but I’ll take it over none at all so long as Flash ele­ments can be off by default and loaded only on-demand (and they can).
  • I get annoy­ing audio inter­fer­ence in the car when the phone is plugged to the audio while also charg­ing. Not sure if this is the phone’s fault, as it does­n’t hap­pen in the house.
  • Does­n’t shoot HD video, but instead, widescreen VGA… sim­i­lar to my Canon Pow­er­Shot from six years ago. I can’t fig­ure out who thought this was a good idea. I don’t do much video, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but an annoy­ance. I’d love to see them fix this with a soft­ware update, which should be pos­si­ble giv­en the beefy hard­ware in this thing.

The lack of key­board wor­ries me:

  • While the aver­age per­son prob­a­bly has to occa­sion­al­ly enter a sim­ple pass­word and a poor­ly thought-out sta­tus update, I’m a writer and a geek (did you guess?), so accu­ra­cy of text entry is impor­tant to me. Typ­ing on-screen kind of both­ers me.
  • I hate the lack of con­trol when com­pos­ing text, even if auto-correct takes care of most of the inac­cu­ra­cies. It also cor­rects my inten­tion­al mis­spellings, col­lo­qui­alisms, “big words” and many prop­er nouns. The thing to do here is obvi­ous­ly make sure it says what I want before click­ing “Send,” but that’s not always easy.
  • Like I said, I’m also a geek. Who the fuck uses com­mand lines these days? I the fuck do. I man­age a Lin­ux serv­er at work, and very often remote­ly con­nect to the com­put­ers at home to do things through­out the day. Not only is typ­ing awk­ward, but oth­er things don’t work, like double-tabbing key for com­plet­ing com­mands and filenames.
  • On the plus side, on-screen options like Swype and SwiftKey, and Google’s pret­ty good voice input makes this hurt a lit­tle less. Still, I’d total­ly go for an iden­ti­cal phone with a key­board, even if it was a bit thick­er and heavier.

But I’m opti­mistic about the future of my phone:

  • As a Nexus phone, its updates are man­aged by Google, so there isn’t any wait­ing for Sam­sung and T‑Mobile to get their act togeth­er and release updates to future ver­sions of Android.
  • Its open-phone sta­tus should make it appeal­ing to third-party devel­op­ers like Cyanogen, who will hope­ful­ly con­tin­ue sup­port­ing it into the future.
  • While I’m a lit­tle con­cerned about buy­ing a new phone now, giv­en the upcom­ing wave of Android phones with dual-core CPUs (Tegra II and oth­ers), I’m not sure that my phone being left “in the dust” will be a con­cern for the next cou­ple of years. After all, desk­top devel­op­ers haven’t exact­ly made great use of multi-core CPUs, which have been wide­ly avail­able there for at least five years now. They’re still good to have for mul­ti­task­ing, which is a nice fea­ture to have your mobile OS sup­port, but the sort of mul­ti­task­ing we expect out of our phones does­n’t usu­al­ly involve two CPU-intensive tasks, but rather one that chugs along per­form­ing some menial task (play­ing music, rout­ing GPS, etc.) while anoth­er in the fore­ground does what you want it to at the moment.

In all, I think Nexus S makes a pret­ty good G1 replace­ment, and will serve me well into the future. I’ll keep you post­ed, uh, Internet.