The problem with Google+

There’s a dilemma inherent in using any new social network in a market already saturated with social networks.  Unless all existing social networks are integrated into some massive conglomerate, there is no way to effectively replace one with another one. 

For example, much as I hate Facebook, I still go there.  Why?  Because I have friends and family who use it.  They aren’t going to not use it.  I could try to drag them over to another network, but to what end?  It’s not likely I will be able to convince everyone to make the switch.  This forces me to just suck it up and use the system, even though I don’t want to and don’t even like it all that much.

Now that the Great Wall of Google+ has been torn down, and Apps users can finally use it, I find that I want to use Google+.  I have no idea why this is.  Maybe it’s just the novelty, the new-social-network smell.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been waiting so long and I’m going to make use of it, dammit.  Maybe it’s the fact that the interface hasn’t (yet) been crapped up by all sorts of stuff I don’t want (live updating stream locked in the sidebar atop a new, locked-in friends list? No and no, thank you).  It could also be because it has insidiously inserted itself into everything I do; even though I don’t use Gmail, I can’t get away from the dark gray plusbar at the top of Google Reader or the ubiquitous +1 icons in search results.  Whatever the reasons, I feel the compulsion to go back, which leaves me with a problem.

Two problems actually.

Three problems, if truth be told.

Those problems being: Facebook, Google+ and Diaspora*.  They all do the same thing in more or less the same way.  I can pretty much knock Diaspora* off the list because – though it was a wonderful experiment in openness and creating a Facebook alternative that could be hosted by anyone (sort of) anywhere (that supports Ruby) – the long delay before the alpha was ready for the public gave Google more than enough time to get all the things right that Facebook got wrong (which more or less makes Diaspora* and Google+ identical – acquisition?).  That still leaves two problems: Google+ vs. Facebook.  I’d love to give up Facebook for good, but that’s not going to happen without a mass Facebook exodus (which is also not going to happen).  Therefore I find myself bouncing between two social networks which is absolutely ridiculous (mostly because in neither case is there anything particularly new and/or interesting happening – my Google+ stream being too new and fresh, not yet overrun by stuff I don’t care about – and Facebook being, well, Facebook).

As good as Google+ may be, it’s never going to beat Facebook (at least, not in the sense that it will overtake and replace Facebook — the way Facebook did to MySpace).  Facebook isn’t going anywhere.  Since Google is also not going anywhere, the best they could do would be to find some way to merge the two.  Not necessarily by buying Facebook or doing a direct conglomerate – I’m thinking more along the lines of an RSS feed, an alternative stream, and a way to use Google+ as a Facebook client.  It’s dangerous territory.  It would be easy to just import all the same data that sent us (well, me) running from Facebook with a myriad of updates about virtual farms being maintained by people I barely knew in high school and former co-workers.  Google+ is already the cool kids hangout; to maintain this, they’d need some way of allowing you to subscribe to Facebook feeds for people you want to follow, but not a direct import of all your Facebook friends.  Because, let’s face it, if there’s any reason we’d give up Facebook it’s because of post-Friending remorse – suddenly being sorry that you clicked Accept on that friend request from someone you hadn’t seen or heard from in 15 years. 

Being able to subscribe to Facebook friends via Google+ would also allow us to be much better stalkers, hiding behind yet another layer of anonymity.  And really, that’s what social networks are really about, isn’t it?  Instead of “friend requests” Facebook should just call it like it is.  Suzie has requested to be a voyeur.  Do you accept her voyeurism request?  If we’re going to use the internet to live vicariously through the lives of people we never see IRL, we should at least be honest about it. 

Oh, right, I was talking about Google+…The best part of Google+ is being able to say +1 to something in a totally non-ironic way.  #win.

Update: Okay, so if you use this Chrome extension, you can get your Facebook feed (and Twitter feed, if you really wanted) in your Google stream. Not a perfect solution, exactly, but it’s more or less what I was asking for so problem solved. For now.

Why are Google Apps users treated like second-class netizens?

Google+: Great Walled Garden
Google+: Great Walled Garden
Original photo by Neil D'Cruze

Hey Google.  Remember me?

I was there when you launched Gmail.  I got one of those first beta invites a couple of weeks after you launched the platform.  I immediately dropped my Hotmail account and switched everything over from a crazy [email protected] (at the time it was fibonacci_jazz), to a more professional sounding address using my initials and last name @gmail.com — then, a symbol of l33tness.

When you released Gtalk, I was all over it.  I downloaded the client, and it is still the main messaging platform I use, eschewing frilly and ridiculous, ad-ridden messengers like MSN Messenger, AIM, and Yahoo!.

When Apps was first released to the public, we all thought it was cool, even if we didn’t know exactly what we’d do with it.  Moving everything to the cloud was a hard pill to swallow, but swallow it we did, and started sharing documents across the interwebs.

Since then, our relationship has gotten a little rocky.

You launched Google Apps for Business.  Okay, so you’re trying to take on Microsoft — a lofty and noble goal, even if it is a bit delusional.  No one is going to dump years worth of Microsoft Office in favor of a free, web-based platform, surely.  And you created a free version for us normal folk.  We weren’t entirely sure why we would need Google Apps on our own domain — outside of being able to use a Gmail interface for our own personal domain, which was pretty cool — but we all signed up anyway.  We wanted to be part of the cool club, and just saying “I’m using Google Apps for my domain” was pretty cool.

But you shit on us.  And I don’t mean that figuratively.

Google Apps for personal domains was always last to receive the latest and greatest updates you were making to Google Apps for everyone else, and that included the improvements you made to Gmail.  Sure, you added an option to be on the bleeding edge of updates.  Later.  After the resentment of having been slighted set in.

Then, once we’d gotten settled in our new Apps domain, and started using our Apps email address for everything Google under the sun (and I mean everything, because we were still drinking the Kool-Aid), you pulled the big whammy on us.  This migration bullshit.  WTF, Google?

Okay, I get it.  I’ve worked in the IT industry and I understand the challenge of moving a bunch of users from an old platform to a new one.  But to us, it’s not really a new platform, is it?  It’s the same stuff we’ve used for years.  It’s the address we’ve had since the day we signed up for Google Apps for our domain and have used for every other stinking Google product including freaking YouTube.  Conflicted account, you say?  Conflicted how exactly?  It wasn’t conflicted when I set up a Blogger site to test templates I was developing.  It wasn’t conflicted when I was saving stuff in Google Docs on jazzsequence.com.  To us, this is just some crazy bullshit you made up.

From a tech perspective, it’s no better.  So you need to migrate thousands, if not millions of users over to the next generation Google platform.  So what?  Figure out the migration process and make it work.  Do this first, before you launch a new product, before you tell everyone that they will lose everything and need to create a new personal Gmail account, which is just bullshit.  A new Gmail account?  That’s the reason we set up Google Apps on our domain to begin with — so we didn’t have to use a Gmail (or Hotmail, or Yahoo) address.  How and when am I going to use another email address, and why would I want to have to switch accounts every time I need to use that stuff?  You’ve got 28,000+, highly trained, incredibly brilliant, motivated, well-paid employees and you’re telling me not one of them had any insight into making the transition more painless?

But the real slap in the face, Google, and the reason I am writing to you, is your latest insult: Google+.  When you first launched those +1 buttons, I was right there with you.  Yeah, I said, share content with friends and family, affect their search results and show them things that I think are cool — sounds awesome.  And I started using the +1 button and trying to figure out how I could add it to my website and the sites I built.  That is, until Google+.  All of a sudden, the +1 button required me to log in, and  I couldn’t log in because I was using an Apps account.  I’m surely not going to switch accounts every time I want to +1 something, and why bother getting set up on a new social network when I’m going to have to dump that account anyway if/when you do let the Apps people in.  This whole switching accounts thing is bullshit anyway — I thought you were going to make that easier.  Why can’t we, I don’t know, merge accounts?  Multiple email addresses and profiles that all feed into the same master address/profile that works on everything.

I can’t tell you how many invites I’ve gotten to Google+ at this point.  I’d love to be able to use it.  But you screwed me, Google.  I refuse to log into a crap account that only exists because you forced me to make it so I can get access to your pretty walled garden network and ogle over how glorious and white it is.  I’m not going to bother setting up circles and following people until I know I can do it with the account I actually use.

We’ve had a rough couple of years, Google.  My brief period of alone time from you made me realize how dependent I am upon a number of your products.  But I can’t buy into your bullshit anymore.  The “don’t be evil” thing — maybe it meant something a long time ago, but now it’s a joke.  You are evil, fueled by the profits you reap from harvesting all our personal data.  There’s some pockets of good in there, I’m sure, like the developers who work on the products you deploy that people can actually use, but I know you’re taking my Chrome browser and click history and storing it in your datacenters so you can feed me better ads (which I then block with a Chrome extension).

When Apps users are let into Google+, we’ll all be raving about how wonderful it is, I’m sure, but until then you’ve just made yourself look like an ass, Google.  Locking out the very people who were very probably some of the earliest of early adopters, people who have used Apps for years and stuck with it.  Don’t get me started on how badly you’ve nerfed Groups, and how Groups for Apps is a joke now.  Fine, whatever, I have to believe you’ll bring some of that stuff back.  And if not, well, I can live without, I guess.  But if you want me to be a megaphone for your new thneed, then you need to give me the fucking key.

Visit Plague Music on Turntable.fm

I haven’t been quiet about being addicted to loving Turntable.fm.  I took a break from Turntable for about a week, only to be reminded how awesome a platform it is when I came back.  The ability to see immediate feedback to the songs you play is almost better than DJ’ing at an actual club or party where some people go and dig the music, but never get up and dance, preferring to socialize.  It’s hands-down better than other platforms or methods for hosting or broadcasting music to other people.  It provides a more direct line of communication and feedback than a podcast, SHOUTcast stream or Blip.fm and is a great way for musicians to play their music and directly interact with their fans and get a response.  After our listening party earlier this week for the new Raygun Girls album, we’ve been trying to think up ways to do something similar again.

Why not a regular Plague Music room?  We could use it for any live events or just hang out and play some tunes.  You can come see what we’re up to by visiting the Plague Music Netlabel room.  If you’d like to DJ and all the slots are full, you can sign up on our DJ list and we’ll make sure you get in there.  It’s likely to be slow going at first as we gather momentum, but we’re hoping to keep this as a regular feature and staff it every Friday (if not other days during the week).  So stop by and see what’s going on.  If you have an event you’d like us to host in our room, or you are an artist and would like us to play your tracks, give us a shout.

Netlabel

A little bit about me:

I went to a University with an adjunct program that allowed students to create their own individualized majors (it’s called the Johnston Center).  You see, my interests and passions were too diverse for me to settle with one single field of study.  We didn’t have letter grades — that doesn’t tell you anything — instead, we received evaluations of our performance.  Before the class we would write a course contract stating our goals for the class, at the end we would write a self-evaluation based on how we felt we did, and then the professor or facilitator of the course would write an evaluation which went on our file.  I recently uncovered the faculty evaluation for my senior project and was reading it.  And I think this says a lot about my approach as well.

The original concept for my senior project was to take an entire year, including the short interim semester, and write a story, film it, and then turn it into an interactive movie like many that were popular when I was in high school (Phantasmagoria and the sequel, Wing Commander III, various others).  The film footage was shot, but when it came down to doing the game portion, I realized the scope of the project would exceed the amount of time I had, and shifted gears, focusing on editing and showing the film and created a CD-Rom with bonus material and the extra footage from the scenes that were to be alternate takes for different forks in the story.  Rather than being seen as a failing, my faculty advisor — who I mostly just checked-in with to give periodic progress reports, otherwise I completely ran everything myself including facilitating my own class which became the production team for the film for the first half of the project — saw this as a strength.  She says:

The many challenges he faced (teaching and directing peers, sorting out technical and creative goals, and readjusting his plans as he went along) could easily have proved too daunting for many students.  But Chris persisted with his core ideas and visions, demonstrating a solid enterprising spririt and producing and intriguing film in the end.

Re-reading this ten years later makes me realize that being able to evaluate a situation and adapt as-needed to create something that is attainable and still true to the original vision is a skill that hasn’t faded, in fact, as a designer and an entrepreneur (I hate that word, by the way), it’s something I do almost every day.  Several years ago, I decided I wanted to create an online music store.  The vision behind it was based on a dream I had for a brick and mortar store, where you would be able to go to a kiosk (I was working quite a bit with photokiosks at the time) and listen to any album in the store, in its’ entirety, before purchasing it.  It was based on the idea that I’ve had for many years that the best way to promote music is to let people hear it, without restrictions.  I tried to take this approach to the website, with mixed results.  The stuff I had in my online catalog was not the same as the stuff I had in the store, and vice versa, and the music catalog was limited by access to distributors, many of whom required a monthly subscription that I didn’t have the capital to front.  It was a learning experience, however, one that — for the first time — really got me deeper into the music business than I had been before.

The only thing that has ever held me back in following through with my crazy, ambitious schemes is taking myself seriously.  In college, of course you take yourself seriously, because you take everything you do incredibly seriously, and you have a bunch of teachers urging you to push yourself.  But in the real world, when you’re faced with bills and responsibilities, it’s too easy to look at a crazy idea and say “wow, that’s crazy” and let it die right there.  But it was a crazy idea to start a business doing web design, and that’s one instance where I’ve taken the crazy idea, and shaped it along the way as new challenges have come and the industry has evolved.  Last summer we started Museum Themes and, in less than a year, have sold enough WordPress themes and Blogger templates to take in over $1k.  It’s not much by the standards of all the other premium theme vendors, but for us, an indie studio with a very small advertising budget (most of the earnings from the themes go straight to advertising), it’s a pretty big deal, and those numbers only get better over time.

So when I start musing over the idea of a netlabel, what I’m doing is analyzing the situation.  Is it worth it?  What is the benefit?  What could I provide with my netlabel that you might not find elsewhere?  Over the years, I’ve written a lot about the music industry.  I’ve watched and watched and I can’t believe how some of these monolithic labels continue in their Jurassic practices and fail to see the obvious right in front of them: that the industry they are in is not the same as it was ten years ago, or even five years ago.  I was about to write a post about the small-batch cd duplication service provided by Kunaki (which I’m still going to do), and considering the new Radiohead album which is sold as a digital-only album with a collectors-edition physical artifact (in the form of two records and expansive art), when a word floated to the front of my consciousness: netlabel.  What does that mean?  Can I do it?  Why bother?

If you watched my last video post, you will know that I’ve been thinking more about the production side of music-making.  This new idea is an extension of that.  And the more that I think about this idea — netlabel — the more attracted to it I become, the more serious the idea gets.  But most of all, the thing that’s driving me is when I half-rhetorically asked on Twitter if anyone would be interested in joining me if I started a netlabel, and actually got a few bites.

What can a netlabel offer? Exposure.  A small amount of advertising (mostly through viral and online, social networking-type avenues).  Complete creative freedom.  Most of all, I think what a netlabel could do for an independent musician is deal with the getting-your-music-out-there part of the music equation, so you just need to worry about making it.

What would I be bringing to the table? I have been making sideline commentary about the music business for years.  It’s time to put these ideas to practice.  So, in part, it would bring my analytical view of the direction the music industry and the effect of the internet and digital mediums on this new incarnation the industry is taking.  I’m also a designer and a web guy.  I could design or help with art, websites, banners, various social networking type things.  I’ve dug deeply into a variety of social networks and tools and ideas and practices, trying almost everything to figure out for myself what works, what doesn’t, and why.  So, as opposed to a regular label, or even, maybe, an indie label, I have music industry knowledge, business knowledge and a knowledge of the internet, social networking and — though nothing I’ve ever done has gone viral, per se — viral marketing.  As stated in my video post, I’m also interested in getting involved in producing albums.  I’m looking at the last few days of the RPM Challenge winding down, and what I see is a lot of people struggling with mixing their own albums.  As of today, I can’t promise that I’m an expert, but I know my tools, I know I have a good ear for music, and, in many cases, I couldn’t possibly be worse than what you’re trying to do yourself.  Time, practice, and experience will tell if I’m as good as I think I could be.  That’s another thing that I could bring.  I also have experience getting music posted on Last.fm, Alonetone, Bandcamp, all of which I’ve used.  I’ve followed both indie musicians and professional musicians and watched as many have shifted their approaches to releasing music and, literally, there isn’t anything they are doing that I couldn’t also do.

What does a traditional label give you? Distribution.  With everything online and an emphasis on digital music, this is irrelevant.  The only real thing that matters is getting your music in the right places so people will hear it.  But with the internet as your storefront, there’s no question of distribution.  Marketing. Again, when the internet is your medium, the entry level for this goes down to nil.  You can market yourself.  Or you can hire some firm to market your stuff for you (in this new job description known as “social media marketer”) but the end result is the same: get yourself a web presence, establish your “brand”, throw your name in as many people’s faces as possible and, most of all, actually engage with people (this is where a lot of companies and individuals fail, opting, instead, for generic or canned messages and status updates or exclusively aggregated content).  Take @Syfy for example.  A single employee for the cable channel maintains the Twitter stream, but rather than posting sterile tweets about upcoming shows, he actually engages his audience, and it’s largely because of his tweets and retweets that I’ve started watching (and enjoying) the Syfy shows Eureka and Being Human, so obviously what he’s doing is working.

Traditional record labels also often provide recording studios and equipment, but if you’re interested in joining or getting involved with a netlabel, you’re probably already doing this in your bedroom.  We have tools now that they couldn’t dream of when they got in the business — we can have entire, professional-quality recording studios in our bedroom for less than $500, so this, too becomes a moot point.  They also provide some upfront cash and help with tour dates and getting gigs, but this is something that bands generally do themselves when you scale it down and start looking at indie labels.  And, again, with the internet, the need to gig to get your music out there isn’t as necessary.  More than that, being a touring road musician means that, unless you’re a big deal, you’re ending up making just enough to get to your next stop.  This will almost never not be the case for any of us bedroom musicians — we know this, and probably we’ve come to terms with the fact that we won’t ever be a huge deal.  But, we could cultivate a cult following if given the right ingredients.  I also think that — while my initial research into what it takes to start a netlabel (honestly, the answer is: hardly anything) says there’s generally no money in it and you’re doing it mostly for a love of the game — I don’t think that it should be excluded as a possibility to actually sell your music.  And maybe signing onto my netlabel will help you promote your music enough and provide enough tools and resources so you are actually able to sell a few copies.

This is what has me thinking.  A lot.  I think I’m going to try it.  I need to work out the details of the business model, profit sharing, etc., but the framework is there, and I really don’t expect there to really be any money involved for a while anyway.  I’ve also got a clear idea of the structure the website will take and even some idea about the design.  And, despite what I’ve seen suggested that netlabels limit themselves to a particular genre or style, my approach is not going to go in that direction.  I’m interested in promoting and producing good music, regardless of the form it takes.  And if your music isn’t good, you should know, and understand how to make it better.  Which is one of the things I’m thinking about with the website…

With that said: Plague Music, coming in 2011.



RockMelt isn’t all that hot

I somehow missed the hype machine for the new social browser, RockMelt.  So, when @LastPass tweeted that it worked with RockMelt, my ears perked up.  RockMelt? WTF is that?

RockMelt is a new kind of browser, or so the introductory video told me, one that combines your social web with your browsing experience.  We’ve met such browsers before; Flock was supposed to make your browsing experience easier and more social, too and everybody’s switched browsers to Flock now, right?  Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Still, I was interested in how the sidebars interacted dynamically with what you were looking at.  And I’m always fancy-new-gadgets-yay, so I signed up for the beta last night.  Aaaand I got my invite this morning.

Let me get one thing out there: I’m not attached at the hip to Facebook.  In fact, generally, I could care less.  The only reason I go there at all is because I have so many people I actually know there with whom I probably would never interact with otherwise.  People I went to college or high school or worked with who I actually like.  But I’ve got more important things to do with my time than wait for the latest update from someone’s FarmVille game, let alone play it myself.  On the other hand, I’m active on Twitter.  I manage 3 separate accounts (though one is mostly on autopilot) and I, at least occasionally, have the sorts of 140-character conversations that people have on Twitter.  A look at my about page will tell you I’m also connected to a lot of other sites, too, some of which I use daily (like Glue and Empire Avenue), some of which I check in maybe once a month or so (like Goodreads), and some of which I rarely, if ever, visit (like Foursquare).  At the same time, I’ve turned off all pop-up notifications from everything because I found, ultimately, that it’s incredibly distracting and I can get a lot more work done when I don’t have a little message popping up in the corner of my screen every 5 minutes.

From the video preview, I could tell that RockMelt was using WebKit.  Just glancing at the tabs told me that, which look exactly like Chrome‘s tabs (really? you couldn’t do something different?).  After downloading the beta and running the install, it told me that, in order to import my settings from Chrome, I needed to close it first.  So I did.  It asked me to log into Facebook.  So I did.  Then it gave me a window that looked exactly like Chrome, but with two sidebars.  The one on the left showing my Facebook contacts, and the one on the right showing my updates from Facebook and (after I logged in) Twitter.  Here’s the thing about Facebook: you know how I just said that I actually use it to keep in touch with people I like?  Well, with a few exceptions, I can generally count those people on one hand.  So, seeing a list of all my online Facebook contacts really doesn’t help me that much.  Now, you can “favorite” your contacts, and switch over to list your favorites rather than your online contacts, but when my favorites (at least in terms of chatting online) number exactly two, that’s not that helpful, really.  What would be better is if it integrated into more social networks.  Anyone hear of Google?  It wouldn’t be hard to integrate a Google Chat into the browser that also brought up the same sorts of information and sharing opportunities you get from the Facebook integration.  And since I (and the rest of the known universe) use Google on a daily basis, this would be much more helpful than my Facebook contacts.  And what about other, similar networks that use an open standard, like Identi.ca and Diaspora?  Having this sort of feature embedded in your browser really needs to have the ability to tune it to your own usage with your own networks, rather than just assuming everybody is using — and wants to integrate into their regular browsing experience — Facebook.

On the right side, as I said, there’s updates from Facebook and Twitter.  What’s actually interesting here, though, is that if you’re on a site that has an RSS feed, a little green button lights up that tells you that you can add that to your sidebar and get notifications from that site.  With all the hub-bub about how RSS is dead (hint: it’s not), this is a great way of integrating RSS into your daily browsing experience in a way that is easy for the non-geeks to pick up on intuitively.  This would be especially useful for adding news sites and getting a list of the latest headlines, or just adding your favorite blogs and using it like an RSS reader.

Beyond that, though, it’s really just Chrome that’s been taught a few cool tricks.  Tricks that, I’m sure, could easily have been developed as standalone extensions within Chrome rather than building an entirely new browser for them.  (Of course, when I re-opened Chrome after RockMelt’s “import”, I was appalled to see that all of my tabs were gone and it was displaying some web page on my hard drive that didn’t exist.  Luckily, although my history was funky and all my Bookmarks were showing up as recently opened pages, I was able to scroll through my history and find most of my previously-open tabs.)  If I had the choice, I’d take the RSS integration and ditch everything else.  That said, I’m not really the target market for this browser.  I’m a geek and I like doing things myself and in my own way.  The billions of users of Facebook that make up the majority would probably be excited to have a way to merge Facebook into the rest of the web.  I’m just not one of those people.  I can see how there could be quite a market for this browser, but only if said market is using the web in exactly the way they intended it to be used.  This has always been the downfall of applications that try to blend all your social networks into one app: it’s great in theory, but in practice, they’re always lacking at least one network (if not multiple) which makes it less appealing to use it as an all-in-one.  In my opinion, the current model of browser development is a good one: the browser is for browsing web sites, any other features can be added through plugins or extensions.  Coding extra features like social network integration into the browser core only makes it heavier, potentially slower, and ends up limiting the user’s browsing experience rather than adding to it.  On the other hand, browser developers should build easy ways to keep up on news feeds and blog updates in an intuitive and visual way, which is something that — I’m not the first to say — has been lacking in modern web browsers.

In conclusion, RockMelt is great if you’re already glued to Facebook, and less so if you’re not.  If that does describe you and you want to check it out, let me know — I have some invites available I can send your way.