Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
Rumors are flying around about Apple investing strategically in Twitter.
Apple Is Said to Discuss an Investment in Twitter - Evelyn Rusli and Nick Bilton via NYTimes.com
Apple doesn’t have to own a social network,” Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said at a recent technology conference. “But does Apple need to be social? Yes.”
Twitter and Apple have already been working together. Recently, Apple has tightly sewn Twitter features into its software for phones, tablets and computers, while, behind the scenes, Twitter has put more resources into managing its relationship with Apple.
Though an investment in Twitter would not be a big financial move for Apple by any stretch — it has $117 billion in liquid investments, and it quietly agreed to buy a mobile security company for $356 million on Friday — it would be one of Mr. Cook’s most important strategic decisions as chief executive. And it would be an uncommon arrangement for Apple, which tends to buy small start-ups that are then absorbed into the company.
But such a deal would give Apple more access to Twitter’s deep understanding of the social Web, and pave the way for closer Twitter integration into Apple’s products.
Twitter has grown quickly, amassing more than 140 million monthly active users who generate a vast stream of short messages about their lives, the news and everything else. An Apple investment would give it the glow of a close relationship with a technology icon, and would instantly bolster its valuation, which, like that of other start-ups, has languished in the wake of Facebook’s lackluster market debut. In fact, word of the talks comes at a time when some are asking whether expectations for the potential of social media companies have gotten out of hand, and shares of Facebook, Zynga and other companies have wilted.
Apple should take $20B and buy Twitter.
Twitter otherwise could spiral off into being a media company, pouring its energies into competing with HuffPo and Mayer’s Yahoo. Or worse, being acquired by Yahoo, AOL, or Microsoft.
Apple needs to bake social into a future version of all its OSs, before Google does.
Mathew Ingram wonders — apparently based on some thoughts by Barry Ritholtz — whether Apple should spend $10B and buy Twitter:
Mathew Ingram, Should Apple buy Twitter?
Apple’s best effort by far at adding those kinds of social elements came when the company integrated Twitter at a deep — and for Apple, a fairly radical — level into the operating system on the iPhone and iPad (and even into its new desktop OS, OS-X Mountain Lion). Never before had Apple built support for a third-party service into its devices and software in such a fundamental way. This helped fuel rumors about an Apple acquisition, just as Ritholtz and others have used it to justify such a deal: if Apple wants to integrate Twitter so deeply, why not just acquire it so that it has full control?
The fact that Apple likes to control things from end-to-end is well known, which is just one of the reasons why the deep Twitter integration was a bit of a surprise. But does it really need to own Twitter in order to get the benefits of that integration? I don’t think so. It can get all the positive aspects of Twitter support without having to own the company — and it doesn’t have to worry about the hassle of maintaining a third-party service that is used for a wide variety of different purposes that Apple has no real interest in.
Not only that, but buying Twitter could actually harm Apple’s attempts to integrate more social aspects into its devices, because it would make it even less likely that the company would ever strike a similar deal with Facebook — something it has tried to do a number of times. It could be that Facebook has no intention of ever partnering with Apple, and the two may wind up becoming adversaries as their interests converge, but acquiring Twitter would likely remove any chance of the two ever working together in even a small way.
So, Mathew comes down pretty strongly on the negative side of a possible acquisition, but omits the long-range view: the next generation of operating systems will be social at the core.
Most of today’s operating systems are still based on 1990 thinking. They are based on WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointer). They don’t know about the Web, so users have to move back and forth from their local store of docs and files to the cloud, a thousand times a day. And the biggest surprise of the Web has been the rise of social, which is supported on our computers through apps.
All of these limitations will be attacked in new operating systems, which will be web-aware, post-WIMP, and inherently social.
Apple is headed into a battle with Google, Facebook, and maybe Microsoft (Windows 8 looks pretty good), and one of the primary areas of contention will be building social primitives into the operating environment.
Google will build its social architecture in Android. Facebook will become more than just an app platform: it will become a mobile OS. Windows 9 or some future version will incorporate some approach to social. And iOS and Mac OS X have started to move this way by including Twitter in the mix, as a fundamental social protocol.
Apple should pay the $10B for Twitter, and make it into the social layer of its OSs, and as the social framework of its apps. For example, Ping in iTunes could be rewired to rely on Twitter, fixing its design as Barry Ritholz points out, and future social TV and second screen apps could be based on Twitter, as well, which makes sense because Twitter is the leading second screen app today. The coming battle for social TV will be hugely important, and Twitter really positions Apple in that space.
So, Mathew is being too conservative, because he thinks Apple may want to ‘work with’ Facebook in the future. But that can’t be where Apple is headed.
Keith Teare, Google, Facebook, Privacy — And You
There is a big structural problem for both Google and Facebook as they contemplate the product consequences of consumer reactions to their product roadmap. In a centralized platform it is incredibly hard to create easy-to-understand controls that give each user the ability to control, at a granular level, what they share and who with. Grand policy shifts, like that which came out of F8 and which we are now seeing from Google, tend to assume all users are the same and will want the same thing.
In reality, users are more complex. I might want to save a private video to a personal storage space one moment, share something with a select group of friends another moment, and broadcast something to the world five minutes later. The web services infrastructure that both Facebook and Google are based on does not easily permit such fine grained control for users without also imposing serious effort. As we all know, that leads users to stick with the default settings most of the time.
So, despite good intent by the teams at both companies, one-size-fits-all decisions are the norm.
Mobile to the rescue?
Structural problems usually require structural solutions. What it seems consumers are asking for is a world in which we all know what we are sharing and who with — but where we don’t have to do a huge amount of work to achieve that. Google Circles seems to be a nod in this direction as are Facebook’s groups. But neither is really easy enough or sufficiently integrated into the flow of the products to really solve the problem. Both require a huge management overhead.
As I argued earlier this week in “Google, Look Out Behind You!“, the spread of smartphones may be part of the solution here. Hundreds of millions of consumers are now carrying around connected still and video cameras with lists of contacts in the address book, often already organized into meaningful groups. Decentralized decision-making is very easy when there are decentralized software clients under the unique control of each user. The ability to be private one moment, selectively share the next and then publicly broadcast a few minutes later is easy to achieve in this decentralized software architecture. And service providers can never become bad actors — simply because they do not own our information or the full social graph. The cloud becomes a means of delivering messages to the phones and the place where we store our media. But it’s not the place we need to trust to make decisions about what gets shared and who with.
So, Keith broadly paints a picture — users being forced into an oversimplified social architecture by Google and Facebook in which groups (or circles, which are a slightly different take on groups) are the mechanism of sharing — and hints that the problem is intractable for web-based social tools.
The answer is smartphones, he suggests: our personal devices, which we already use in myriad ways to connect with and share with others. He must believe — without saying so explicitly — that the solution lies in observing what we share and with who on our smartphones, and to refine that natural body of information into a bottom-up determination of who’s who in our world.
Imagine a Venn diagram of dozens — or hundreds — of sets of friends, where any friend could be in zero to all the sets, and all the sets are constantly in flux. And without us having to create all the scaffolding for it to work.
Obviously, Teare is not content to wave his hand at this: he’s started a company to actually build the solution:
Keith Teare, Seed and Series A Funding
just.me is a new architecture built on top of the mobile, and particularly the smartphone, ecosystem. It doesn’t take the web as its starting point, it takes the highly personal and ever-present mobile Internet as its starting point. As such it is focused on defining a new consumer software experience, not replacing an existing one. It is also focused on the freedom that comes from placing social tools on a device the consumer fully controls, and not building a big cloud service that owns or acts on the consumers data. We don’t know all of the questions this gives rise to yet, never mind all of the answers. But we are really excited about building on this new ecosystem and learning with users as we go.
I’ve been suggesting that the next wave for social networks is the social operating system — where exactly the problems that Teare is talking about are solved by building social primitives into the foundation of our online experience — but Teare is pushing at a transitional step, based on the mobile device as the logical point of leverage in the transition to the next generation of social tools.
Dave Winer wants us to ignore the rapid adoption of apps — primarily driven by the genius generation of smart phones now on the market — because he says they ‘are not the future’. This reminds me of the Chico Marx line, ‘Who are you going to believe? Me, or your own eyes?’
Leaving aside the astonishing proliferation of apps, what is it that Winer is trying to get at? What would lead to the fall of the applications ecology out there?
Dave Winer, Why Apps Are Not The Future
Visualize each of the apps they want you to use on your iPad or iPhone as a silo. A tall vertical building. It might feel very large on the inside, but nothing goes in or out that isn’t well-controlled by the people who created the app. That sucks!
The great thing about the web is linking. I don’t care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don’t need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it if you want to get my point.
We pay some people to be Big Thinkers for us, but mostly they just say things that please people with money. It pleases the money folk to think that the wild and crazy and unregulated world of the web is no longer threatening them. That users are happy to live in a highly regulated, Disneyfied app space, without all that messy freedom.
I’ll stay with the web.
So when Dave means ‘the web’, he means the generation of the web where we were primarily interested in web pages and how they referenced each other by hyperlinks. This is what I call the Web of Pages, and it was a very productive basis for a decade, during which time we rapidly developed and migrated onto the Web of Flow, which is where we are mostly living now.
Instead of pages and links, the most important objects in the Web of Flow are people and relationships. Instead of wandering around the web, jumping from page to page using browsers, people now use social apps, and those apps bring information to us through social relationships.
Yes, we still use URLs as convenient IDs for snippets of information, and those are the handles being passed around by apps, but they are increasingly becoming proxies for information that is embedded on the pages, used increasingly as a mechanism to fetch the information and bring it into a social context.
But Dave thinks we want to live in a 2008 era forever. I wrote about some of these arguments a while back in a piece called Why Closed Works: Moving Past Steampunk Thinking About The Future Of Computing, which dealt with the open/closed issue surrounding the rise of apps, and the fall of the WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointer) style of human-computer interaction.
Personally, I want a future where we move farther away from the physical layers of the web and higher into the social layers. Here’s what I think is right around the corner:
Lastly, Dave seems to have an issue with ‘Big Thinkers’ who supposedly say what they do to make others — those with ‘big money’ — happy. But I don’t see that people advocating a new model of communication and connection through a different sort of web are necessarily doing the work of monied interests. I’m advocating it, personally, because I think it will lead to a richer user experience, and ultimately, stronger social connection in the world.
This technical report considers the design of a social network that would address the shortcomings of the current ones, and identifies user privacy, security, and service availability as strong motivations that push the architecture of the proposed design to be distributed. We describe our design in detail and identify the property of resiliency as a key objective for the overall design philosophy.
We define the system goals, threat model, and trust model as part of the system model, and discuss the challenges in adapting such distributed frameworks to become highly available and highly resilient in potentially hostile environments. We propose a distributed solution to address these challenges based on a trust-based friendship model for replicating user profiles and disseminating messages, and examine how this approach builds upon prior work in distributed Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks.
This is exactly the form that social operating systems will take: a distributed model (mediated by server-side replication) for peer-to-peer social relationships and messaging.
Tsotsis attends Web 2.0 Summit and wonders why we haven’t started to adopt the term Web 3.0, which she associates with Reid Hoffman’s big data ideas.
Well, for one reason, six dozen other attempts to define Web 3.0 have sputtered and died like the attempt by Jason Calacanis to say that what he was up to at Mohalo was Web 3.0 or the many efforts to say that the semantic web is Web 3.0.
The reality is this:
I personally feel that Web 2.0 has a long way to play before we can advocate jumping onto some new wave. Have we seen the full culmination of the social revolution going on? No, and I think it will be awhile before we do.
Personally, I feel the vague lineaments of something beyond Web 2.0, and they involve some fairly radical steps. Imagine a Web without browsers. Imagine breaking completely away from the document metaphor, or a true blurring of application and information. That’s what Web 3.0 will be, but I bet we will call it something else.
Whatever the cool kids call what they are doing when they shift the metaphor away from what we are doing now won’t be Web 3.0. The ones that invent the next thing won’t count back. They won’t even remember Web 1.0.
Next giant step: social operating systems, which will lead to social networks — and communication through them — becoming the central purpose of the web, not just a bunch of unintegrated applications.
Adam Clark Estes
It took months of waiting, a couple of false starts and a whole lot of speculation, but Facebook has finally launched an iPad app. However, the upgrade is much more than a tablet-friendly version of the website. Facebook is also carrying over its developer platform to mobile. This means that all of the slick new class of Facebook apps that Mark Zuckerberg announced a couple of weeks ago at the f8 developers conference will be more integrated into the mobile experience. The specific details are a little bit confusing at first as Facebook is spoon-feeding the functionality to users, but we can already tell: Facebook is starting to function like an independent mobile operating system.
As [Facebook’s Luke] Shepard explains [here], Facebook apps will now be fully integrated into the mobile experience as their own apps within the Facebook app. If you receive a notification or request from a friend in a compatible app, tapping the update will switch to the mobile app if you have it on your phone or take you to Apple’s app store to download it. Shepard uses Words with Friends as an example. Let’s say your pal plays the word “quixotic”—a high scorer, by the way—you’ll receive a notification and tapping it will take your straight to the app to make your move. Facebook is also extending Credits to the mobile apps so you can also buy things within their framework. Again, it’s like its own little operating system within Apple’s iOS.
Facebook is headed toward a direct confrontation with Apple and Google (and Amazon and Microsoft) for the future of computing: the social operating system.
Apple certainly shouldn’t let Facebook create an independent app store.
When is Facebook going to develop its own tablet?
Michael Degusta makes a pretty convincing case that Google’s senior management doesn’t want to fool with Google+, and that’s just another indication of being socially challenged.
See Can Google Go Social from a year ago, long before Google+, where I suggested that Google will fumble the social future:
Google made a pile by harvesting the latent value of all the social gestures we were leaving around the web in the form of links. These form the core of Page Rank and Google’s search/advertising business.
This was born in the paleolithic of the social web, where mostly we were wandering around as hunter-gatherers, turning over rocks, based on keyword search. The idea of social in those days was to send email alerts to people so they’d remember to read your blog and post comments.
But the social web has grown based on social networks — relationships between people — not hyperlinks between web pages. We are in a great migration away from a web of pages to a web of flow, where streams connect us and allow us to share links, comments, photos, games, locations, lists, and even larger social objects in the future. And Google has only had the smallest involvement in that expansion. But they desperately want in on the next wave, but they haven’t found a formula yet. It’s not Wave or Buzz, obviously. And now they are plotting a knockoff of Facebook: how 2009!
There are many unplowed fertile fields out there, where Google’s scale and engineering soul could do great things. As just one example, modern social network research has shown that the social ‘scenes’ we are situated in — the millions of people that form the ‘friends of my friends’ friends’ network — are the single best predictor of our likelihood to be fat, smoke, or be happy. And by extension, buy Chevrolets, listen to Country music, or read manga. And no services have tapped into that reality, yet, except in the most inadvertent ways. (For more background see Social Scenes: The Invisible Calculus Of Culture, It’s Betweenness That Matters, Not Your Eigenvalue: The Dark Matter Of Influence and Jeff Jarvis on The Hunt For The Elusive Influencer.)
This is why actions like buying Slide are likely to be diversions, like Jaiku and Dodgeball turned out to be. Meanwhile, there are real advances to be made — like building sociality into the operating platforms of the future. Obviously Google is in a position to do that with Android and Chrome, but I honestly don’t think they know what to build.
Bryce Roberts, For Whom Is This Service Built?
As I absorbed the new messaging around Facebook as the place to tell the stories of our lives I couldn’t help but be reminded of a post Fred wrote when Google launched their Facebook killer. In it, Fred surfaced a question he had when looking at why Google was requiring use of “real names” as a condition of Google+:
It begs the question of whom Google built this service for? You or them. And the answer to why you need to use your real name in the service is because they need you to. Well at least we got that out there and can deal with it.
I had the same feeling looking at the new Facebook- for whom were these new features built?
Does all of this new structure make my experience more engaging? Or does the added structure make my experience easier to index? Does the connection to my past posts inspire me to add more chapters of my life’s story? Or does it remind me of how much of my personal information Facebook owns to make me rethink leaving for other service? Is Facebook really interested in helping me tell the story of my own life? Or are they more interested in having me help them tell the story of my life to their app developers, partners and advertisers?
We are onto Facebook, but the average person doesn’t care.
I am a philosopher: I am interested in broad answers to general questions. Most people are living in a more constrained way, looking for simple answers to narrow questions. Facebook works in that context.
Facebook will be blindsided by tectonic technology shifts, not an exposé of how and why the Open Graph is designed to ransack our lives, stealing every quarter from the back of the sofa and milking every episode of our online lives for royalties.
I just hope that social operating systems come soon, and Facebook is caught wrong-footed.