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What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
As part of the chorus singing about Google+ (see Armano’s insightful The Social Layer: Six Thoughts On Where Google Plus Is Going as just the most recent example), let me make a few observations:
It’s very hard to separate foundational concepts of Google+ from what might considered features or apps. Foundational elements would include identity, following, streams, and sparks. But Circles, Hangouts, and Huddle are best considered apps, in the broadest sense. So apps are a foundational element of the Google+ architecture, and they can closely integrate into the user experience of Google+, like Circles does.
But we are moving toward a world where most of the foundational elements of Google+ will be part of a next generation version of Android, and the things that feel like apps on Google+ will be, in fact, apps running on that future social OS.
This means that I could drop Circles, and use some other app as a mechanism for organizing my sociality. Imagine an imaginary app, called Groupings, that works very differently than Circles, but does build on the foundational elements of identity, following, streams and sparks.
But I would want to follow people not just on the Google+ enhanced version of Android, but the Twitter-enhanced, social versions of iOS and OS X, as well. So long as these two operating systems provide similar social foundations, Groupings could run on my OS X laptop and on my pal’s Android smartphone.
In this model, the operating systems become the platform, and apps like Circles or Groupings could run on either, or on a future, social Windows 9 (once Facebook acquires the phone parts of Microsoft).
I could opt to follow someone, with a globally unique identity provided by the operating system of choice: in my case, let’s say by OS X, and the person I want to follow, David Armano, by Android. We would also be able to use those identities on any device.
Once I opt to follow, the basics are provided: I will get what he drops in his public stream, and it will appear in my ‘upstream’ — the unfiltered collation of all those I follow. What I post or repost falls into my ‘downstream’ which would be directed to everyone who is following me.
Obviously, the various operating systems have to support the fundamental protocols for this social messaging to work, and we will see this in due course, although it’s likely that we will see several contending models that don’t interoperate, and closed worlds built by the various operating systems providers.
We need the social operating system equivalent of http and email protocols to arise, so that an open social web can emerge.
We need the social operating system equivalent of http and email protocols to arise, so that an open social web can emerge.
So one thing we can learn from the Google+ experiment is this: I shouldn’t have to login to Google+, and use Circles, to follow David Armano’s writing over there. The works of those I follow should find me no matter what applications or operating systems I use. I don’t have to have Outlook running to read Armano’s email, and I don’t have to browse his website with Chrome, just because those are the tools he uses.
And the developers of these applications, platforms, and operating systems need to be pushing aggressively in that direction, because in the meantime we are dividing the space for social discourse online into a maze of contending, non-interoperable models that don’t harmonize yet.
[Update: I pulled a section of this out, as I was corrected about iMessage being the next version of Messages:
Project via comments
Actually, iMessage and the SMS app in iOS5 are one and the same thing. If the person you are sending a message to doesn’t have an iOS device, it sends it as an SMS. If the person does, it recognises it in the To field and sends it as an iMessage. In effect, Apple are embracing and extending the SMS protocol with this service. It is a huge move.
I stand corrected.]
Yesterday’s announcements from Apple included the new iMessage: an iOS-only messaging system, which is apparently intended to remove the last rationale that BlackBerry users might have to not adopt iPhones:
Darrell Etherington, iMessage: Biting RIM’s style and sticking it to network operators
BBM is one of the few remaining advantages RIM’s aging platform has over its younger competition in the smartphone market. (Check out this tweet representative of reaction toiMessage’s announcement if you don’t believe me.) People appreciated the way it integrates tightly to your device, and its delivery and read receipts let you know your messages aren’t getting lost in the ether. It’s been a life raft for RIM in the violent sea of the ongoing mobile battle BlackBerry faces with iOS and Android.
However, iMessage brings a lot of what’s good about BBM not only to the iPhone, which just passed RIM in terms of U.S. smartphone ownership trentds, but also to all iOS devices. With iPad and iPod touch users factored in, the potential audience for iMessage is huge, and it should cause at least some BBM-faithful to flee RIM’s platform for greener pastures.
Apple’s move also pushes the mobile carriers down in the stack, allowing iOS users to bypass SMS or proprietary messaging solutions. This is a painful but inevitable evolution.
iMessage is just a tactical play targeting BBM: a old-school pre-social, buddylist-style proprietary messaging system. It’s not strategic, really.
In the long run, it looks like Apple is planning to use Twitter as the platform for social communication, building Twitter into iOS instead of building protocols on which Twitter and other networks could run.
As reported by Marshall Kirkpatrick, Twitter on iOS 5 will be a platform for social apps:
My summary, in a sentence: iOS apps will look like, feel like, read from and publish to Twitter like never before. And they’ll do that in many cases instead of using Facebook.
[Jason] Costa [the newly hired Twitter Developer Relations leader] summarizes thusly."There is single sign-on, which allows you to retrieve a user’s identity, avatar, and other profile data." That sounds like Facebook Connect, but I’m going to guess that Twitter will not prohibit developers from caching that data for time-shifted, aggregate, offline or other interesting types of analysis. Letting users skip having to create an account with every new app they download and instead click to log-in with their Twitter accounts is going to make many users very happy and encourage every iOS owner to get a Twitter account if they don’t have one already. App developers will get more and better populated user accounts, faster.
"There’s also a frictionless core signing service, allowing you to make and sign any call to the Twitter API." To be honest, I’m not really sure what this means. Perhaps it means that parts of the Twitter API that require user authentication will be accessible via the same single sign-on feature discussed above.
"There is follow graph synchronization, which enables you to bootstrap a user’s social graph for your app." In other words, apps will be able to offer users to find their Twitter friends who are also using a new app they’ve installed, and connect with them there too. That’s the kind of solution to the user-level "cold start problem" that Facebook Connect has been so helpful with for web apps.
"Furthermore, there is the tweet sheet feature, giving your app distribution and reach across Twitter." Again, like Facebook Connect, this is a feature that appears to make it easy for apps to publish user activity and promotional messages out into the Twitter streams of a user’s friends. Facebook has a complicated algorithm that determines how often an app is allowed to publish messages out into the Newsfeed of a user’s friends, based on how much interactions messages from that app have received in the past. That’s a spam control mechanism that I’m going to guess Twitter will not replicate, at least at first.
It looks like Apple is going to give Twitter this deep and central role in its social OS plans, and allow the smaller more agile company to manage the building of an ecology of social apps on top of the paired architecture.
If even remotely successful, Apple will want to acquire Twitter, and Twitter will want to be acquired. These two will become as inseparable as NeXT was to Apple, when they regrooved Mac OS to be built upon the Mach Unix kernel. Here though, Apple will be making Twitter — and the open follower model Twitter resides on — the social kernel for iOS going forward.
This is a grand land grab by Apple and Twitter, an effort to block a Google/Facebook coalition on Android, or a Microsoft/Facebook partnership on Windows 8.
What about the competition? I predict Facebook will be too reluctant to partner with anyone, and may be at work on plans to launch its own hardware. Google is too slow on the social network side (the most expensive error of all time?), so they are stuck in the water. Microsoft is making credible efforts with Windows 7 and 8, but have no social network story. Microsoft is far enough behind the curve to possibly cede the social sphere to Facebook, too. RIM is falling like a stone, and would probably like to be bought, and either Google or Microsoft might bite, but that’s just tactics. None of these players has a strategic answer to the Apple move with Twitter.
What I don’t understand, though, is why iMessage isn’t written as a social app on top of Twitter. That would be the right path, and would simplify the Venn diagram tremendously. But Apple is opting to run both worlds — the pre-social and the social — in parallel, at least for a time, instead of doubling down on its social push with Twitter.
Considering that Nokia has basically handed over its future to Microsoft, why didn’t they actually sell themselves? Instead, they have become a "puppet state" as MG Siegler calls it.
The rumors of Microsoft wanting to acquire Nokia has been going on for a long while, and the recent crash of the stock in the market suggests that analysts and investors see this capitulation as a negative for Nokia. Would the stock have fallen in a buyout? I don’t think so. So, at least in the short term, Elop’s plan is a disaster for Nokia shareholders, and a free gift to Microsoft.
And if the Windows 7 launch does not lead to a significant wedge into the market, will Microsoft drop phones? Will the board finally ax Ballmer?
Steve Ballmer, discussing Microsoft’s next tablet, and showing why Microsoft is in Apple’s dust. Windows 7 doesn’t go far enough at all, and Windows apps aren’t touch friendly, to say the least.
Microsoft has gotten a lot of people excited with the radical break that Windows Phone 7 represents. Behind the user experience shift is the simple realization that phones aren’t really small computers. Especially computers from the ’90s, with folders, files, and a desktop. See my recent post, Why Closed Works: Moving Past Steampunk Thinking About The Future Of Computing, which suggests why iPad and other new OS approaches are potentially liberating for us, despite the yowling from techies.
Windows Phone 7 represents a similar departure — a break with the notions of what users should have in their heads when fooling with a phone.
- Peter Sayer, Microsoft CEO unveils Windows Phone 7
"Phones looked like PCs, but a phone is not a PC, it’s smaller, more personal," said Joe Belfiore, vice president for Windows Phone.
To make the interface more personal, Microsoft is counting on a checkerboard of customizable “live tiles” that can update automatically with information from the phone or the Internet.
Some of the tiles will update automatically to show frequent contacts or local information, while others can be customized manually. The tiles will be grouped into themed “hubs,” for example a page of contacts called “people” or a page of photos called “pictures”.
It seems that we are starting to see some commonalities in these new operating environments, like iPad, Windows Phone 7, and Litl, to name three interesting examples.
iPad will be based on the iPhone operating environment, which is extremely minimal: it offers up single applications, and not much else. These apps are generally fairly minimal: it seems that at least in the first release iPhone apps will generally be running in a ‘double pixels’ mode, although Apple has said it will provide tools to allow iPhone apps to be rejiggered to run natively.
The point is that users will not need a Mac OS X kind of experience to read a book, listen to music, or watch a movie. The user’s experience will be shaped by the sorts of media being accessed, rather than a general purpose programming world.
This is also what seems to be at work with Windows Phone 7: they have thrown away the general purpose file/folder/desktop environment so familiar to programmers, and moved ahead to an environment designed around information streaming to the device or to the user.
Here we see the adoption of ‘tiles’ — rectangular information objects that access streams or stores of information when touched. These ‘tiles’ will replace the notion of running apps, or opening files, or initiating a connection to the web through a browser, although it seems like we are going to be stuck with the browser metaphor for some time.
The deepest shift at work in these new environments is a transition to information flows away from information stores.
We will come to perceive what is going on as we touch these Windows 7 tiles, or open Litl channels, is that we are connecting to a stream of information, more like a TV channel than opening a file or browsing to a website.
And I believe that the streaming metaphor when coupled with the social dimension of tools like Facebook and Twitter, or new social elements of these new platforms themselves, will change how we think about them and how we use them.
My sense is that more designers — like the folks at Litl, the innovative ‘internet computer for the home’ — are looking to television and streaming media services as a starting point for redesign of user experience.
I recently got a loaner from Litl, and while I was impressed with much of the philosophy of the user experience, I was dissatisfied with the experience overall.
In particular, I had hoped that there would be a social experience tightly integrated into the radically different OS they had devised, something as innovative as the ‘ring’ controller they developed as part of the scrolling controls on the hardware. But that side of the equation was stuck back at email. If I see something cool in one of the channels on my Litl I would like to be able to simply pass it along to those following me in a hypothetical Litl network. Or else they could have tightly integrated to something like Twitter.
Yes, I can use Litl to look up a recipe, and position the device on the kitchen counter in it’s easel mode to make it a handy appliance. But it’s just a browser window to Epicurious, and not connecting me to a network of other cooks.
This is perhaps an example of a general rule: as innovators attempt to break out of the user experience ruts of today’s operating systems, they will get hung up on those irreducible elements of the existing world order that have to be connected. Like browsers, and email. These will hold us back, even in circumstances where radical changes are being attempted.
I beleive that Litl is a bellwether of things to come, as is Windows 7 Phone OS, and the iPad.
In all cases, the designers have drastically minimized what users are able to do for the sake of a simpler and more usable model of use.
But I think it is a mistake to not make these devices more obviously social, where streaming of information to and from other people becomes the primary mode of operation, and not something demoted to something in email, or in other applications. I expect to see someone release a social OS in the near term, where our connections to others are directly supported in the operating environment, not just within social applications.
Update on Monday, February 15, 2010 at 1:55PM by Stowe Boyd
From the Microsoft Windows 7 Phone press release:
Windows Phone 7 Series creates an unrivaled set of integrated experiences on a phone through Windows Phone hubs. Hubs bring together related content from the Web, applications and services into a single view to simplify common tasks. Windows Phone 7 Series includes six hubs built on specific themes reflecting activities that matter most to people:People. This hub delivers an engaging social experience by bringing together relevant content based on the person, including his or her live feeds from social networks and photos. It also provides a central place from which to post updates to Facebook and Windows Live in one step.
Sounds like the ‘people hub’ is a step in the direction I was alluding to.