The Incredible Run of Google+

Since an image is worth 1000 words, here is a graph done by Leon Håland analyzing the growth of Google+. It took only 24 days for Google+ to reach 20 million users, while it took over three years to reach that number for Facebook and Twitter. Considering that the service is still open only by invitation and that brands or news organisations are not yet invited, this sounds like a huge achievement.

I think that this success is partially due to the fact that society is now used to the concept of a ‘social network’, we know what to do with the facebooks, the twitters and similar things. Another reason for this fast achievement maybe that Google already has lots of active profiles, via Gmail and Android. Or maybe, it’s because Google+ just works and proof of this may be that people are starting to receive breaking news from it, faster than Twitter.

To propel the next phase of growth, Google seems to be courting celebrities, the way Twitter does. I wonder how the pitch is because I can’t really imagine any non-techie using Google+ at the moment. Compared to the simplicity of the first Twitter interface Plus seems too intimidating. Can you imagine Hugo Chavez governing Venezuela via Google+ instead of Twitter?

What is the most important reason for you to use Google+? What made you jump using it?

Article first published as The Incredible Run of Google+ on Technorati.

How Google Can Win the Social Network War

First there was Orkut, FriendFeed, MySpace. Then Facebook came and took 750 million people behind its wall as they eagerly connected with school friends, shared baby photos and played Farmville.

Now Google Plus, the coolest kid in the block, has arrived. Facebook and Google seem to be competing to build the best single website where billions of users go to keep in touch with their friends and family, get the news and more. But it doesn’t have to be this way: Google Plus can be part of a federation of social sites.

Google Plus is a good product that has already reached 10 million users with innovative features like Circles and Hangouts. Google plans to add API soon, so that outside developers can add even more features to it. Facebook, however, is not standing still: Mark Zuckerberg will keep adding features, improving the design and pushing the expansion of its great walled garden beyond 1 billion users. And the competition will continue, until the race is about who builds the biggest single garden.

There is one thing I believe Google can do to win this race now: change the rules of the competition. Google should make Google Plus the (biggest?) part of a federation of Plus-like sites. Imagine hosting providers like 1and1 or Rackspace offering Plus sites alongside their email and web hosting. I could run my own plus.maffulli.net and use that as a private space to communicate with my extended family around the world. The local church, the schools, all could run their own Plus and the participants in those group could still add people to circles across different domains, like you can send email regardless of where the recipient has her account. Google Plus is email on steroids and the Circles are the next generation of the addressbook.

Facebook is good at building walls: the site is designed to attract users inside, convince them with subtle tricks to leave their precious personal data on the site — then they sell that information to the highest bidder to serve ads.

Google, on the other hand, is good at crawling data across distributed sources and extracting information from it. By fostering the creation of thousands or millions of Plus-like sites, all linked together, Google can pull the rug out from under Facebook and end the competition.

Google has all the knowledge on how to make money out of such federated structure: email is a federation, the World Wide Web itself can be read as a federation. Google’s core competence is how to extract information from distributed data and use that to present valuable advertising to distributed services. Instead of billions of users on one site, think of tens of billions of Google Plus sites, most of them showing AdSense.

Do us a favor, Google: end the race, kill Facebook or Tulalip before it even starts and any other service that tries to build silos to contain users. Enable a federation on Google Plus and keep on innovating.

Article first published as How Google Can Win the Social Network War on Technorati.

Leveraging the address book as your social network

Think about it: your list of friends, family, colleagues and casual acquaintances is not on Facebook or Linkedin. It’s in your pocket, in your phone’s address book and your email address book. If you’re smart you keep them in sync, too. Your address book is your social network.

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I’ve talked about this often, including developers of GNOME Evolution and Thunderbird because I felt that both groups are missing an opportunity. The address book is one of the most important features of an email client as it can enrich the reading and writing experience. The list of people you have in there can be used to sort out priorities for reading your mail. For example, the client could automatically sort messages from family and put them up in the queue when you read email in the early morning while email from colleagues are demoted to low priority until you have your coffee. The address book could also fetch information about your contacts from the web and show you what that person on that mailing list has been up to lately.

I realized today that Google has finally started leveraging the address book on Gmail adding the “people widget” to the conversation view. Imagine you’re reading a discussion in your inbox: the widget shows the information you have about them in the address book, their recent activity with them and more. I think it’s awesome use of your original social network. Too bad you have to surrender your list of friends, colleagues, family etc to Google in order to use this feature.

Hopefully Thunderbird and GNOME Evolution developers will invest more energy into making the address book more meaningful than just a place to dump data in.
 

 

About the people widget – Gmail Help.

A path to design social apps that don’t suck

Existing social networking apps suck because human social interactions is simply more complex than adding a ‘friend’. This presentation shows quite clearly why Facebook sucks and the email/phone addressbooks suck, too. Take a full 40 minutes to read it carefully and then watch it again.

It’s all about Contacts: who do you know?

When it comes to doing anything, finding a job, an apartment or a used car, what counts most is who you know. In the old times it was the size of your rolodex, now it’s the size of you digital addressbook. Being so powerful, it’s no wonder that everybody out there wants it: Facebook, Plaxo, Vodafone, AT&T … all want YOUR addressbook because who you know says a lot about who you are, what you like. Also the FBI likes to know that 🙂

It’s good to notice the quantity of efforts from the free software community revolving around your social capital. After my disappointment with the pretty lame addressbook in Thunderbird 3, I was amazed to learn about MozillaLabs Contacts. It’s a Firefox extension that makes the browser aware of your online contacts and friend lists. Why should you care? Because your addressbook is yours and you shouldn’t be sharing it with everybody only to invite them to join yet-another-social-networking-site. As Michael Hanson puts it in his blog post

This information is also special, because it represents the boundary between “my data” and “your privacy”. When you disclose your friends’ email addresses on a website (maybe you want to invite them to a cool new site you just joined), you are trusting the website to keep that address private. […] The disclosure of your friends’ contact information is an important step: we think you should be in control of it.

Contacts also uses the Portable Contacts definition internally. I aggregate and keep all my contacts in sync with Funambol, so I’m thinking that the best way for me to use Contacts would be if I could have it grab the addressbook from Funambol server. How hard would it be to add a Portable Contacts representation of the contacts stored in Funambol? If anybody is interested, I can sponsor the investigation of the issue and the development with Code Sniper grants.

Pimp your addressbook with Avatargrabber

Who said that syncing is boring? Alfredo Morresi developed the ultimate time-wasting-syncing-social-tool to pimp your addressbook. Did you know that your phone and desktop addressbook can associate an icon to any of your entries? But, honestly, who has ever wanted to spend time associating a name with a picture? I didn’t, until Avatagrabber was released, that is. Now it’s become a perfect time wasting machine. All you need is a myFunambol account (or another SyncML compliant server). Here is how it works: Avatargrabber grabs the list of contacts from myFunambol; you can pick a name you want to ‘pimp’ with an icon and let Avatagrabber scout the web in search of images of your contact on various social networks or Google image. It’s only a matter of seconds before you become addicted :)’  Not bad for a Funambol Code Sniper application. Grab it here: isn’t it cool?

The future of Social Networks

I really liked watching this presentation, I think that Charlene has good points. My social graph is not flat and it’s more extended than any Google or Facebook knows. Which leads to my concerns: how much do I want to disclose to strangers? how do I make sure that I am the owner of my own social graph? how do I balance being part of a big social network and such disclosure?

I guess I’ll have to keep thinking about this. Meanwhile, enjoy Charlene’s slides.

Mobile micro-blogging with Funambol at Girl Geek Dinner

I made an experiment last Friday at the Italian Girl Geek Dinner: I grabbed the latest JAM email client that supports sending photos and I used it to report from there using the new service Twitxr.’  Twitxr is like Twitter allowing short text messages but adding one image and a simple form of geotagging.’  I setup my Twitxr so that I could send all my comments and pics to a special email address from which they would also be forwarded also to twitter (whose stream is included also on this blog’s sidebar) and my Facebook (Flickr is also supported, but I left it out for now).

I found out that the keyboard of the Nokia N60 I used is good enough to write short twits and that the quality of the pics is acceptable to describe what is happening.’  The battery of the phone ran out faster than I expected. Giulia suspects that the JAM version I was using had a bug (I’ll check this with Edoardo later this week).

I had fun at the dinner, I liked Sarah’s speech: the girl has a clear vision, I found her very inspiring, definitely a person to folllow. We’ll have to find more occasions to do things together, since she is a mobile geek 🙂

The question everybody asks: How many guys were there?’  I’m waiting for’  the video in intruders.tv.