Google-fu — the grasshopper emerges

The Urban Dictionary defines google-fu as “the ability to quickly answer any given question using internet resources, such as a search engine.”  By that definition, my google-fu is generally pretty strong. I’m a Googler. I google when I want to search the web. I also use Gmail when I want to send or receive email. You can reach me at [email protected]. I’m not shy about typing that address with the @ sign because Gmail protects me from spam. I also use the Google Chrome browser. Chrome lets me keep jillions of tabs open without ever crashing, something I couldn’t say about Firefox when I made the switch. Maybe by now they’ve fixed that in Firefox, but if so then they fixed it too late for me.

I have decided to master the extended discipline of Google-fu. I’m going for the Google-fu black belt. Google in 2021 is a system for knowledge and sharing that requires the concentration of an enlightened master to grasp. Between the time when those kids from Stanford invented a dandy search engine and last month when they decided to open fire on Facebook with Google+, Google has become the most diversified software service provider on the planet. They offer rarefied search tools like Google scholar, consultative and facilitative utilities like Google moderator, digitized library services, comprehensive geography information, cloud data storage services; and, the full range of what was once “desktop” software is available from Google online: document creation, presentations, drawing, spread-sheets, calendaring, and of course email. All those functions provide a scaffolding for Google’s business model which requires them to be the most powerful advertising presence on the planet.

Google groups contains a searchable archive of hundreds of millions of Usenet postings from the early days of online social networking. The watershed moment for Internet users and Usenet itself came in 1993, the so-called “Eternal September” when AOL opened the floodgates and gave all its zillions of customers access to Usenet groups. Google is preparing for its own version of “Eternal September.” The day is coming soon when all the migration tools will be in place and all the Facebook users will be faced with the shiny new thing that Google is offering them: Google+.

I have faith in Google. I think they can pull it off. Back around the turn of the millennium I became a Google search evangelist. In a way it was a religious thing. I didn’t have any data to support it, but I had faith in Google search results. I preached Google search to anyone who would listen. My faith has been rewarded by Google’s dominance in the search engine wars. I’ve also enjoyed using Intel chip sets running Microsoft Windows, usually in cheap, reliable desktops and laptops by Dell. When the iPad arrived, I got one, but I have to admit I prefer my Windows netbook to the Apple tablet. At that same time I upgraded my cell phone from a kludgy if powerful Palm PDA to the iPhone 4, a decision I have only regretted a little as the Android market begins to appear competitive with the slick Apple mobile dream machine. I really like my iPhone! But check back with me when the contract’s over. By then I’ll doubtless be ready to ditch the iPhone in a Cupertino minute.

The consumer information technology world is in constant turmoil and conflict. War is a dominant metaphor. Besides the search engine wars, we’ve had the browser wars and the “religious war” of Apple versus Microsoft users. Mac users are convinced that Windows users have an inferior product. Windows users are convinced that Mac users are a smug overbearing lot of over-privileged, under-achieving do-do-heads who don’t know anything about computers. This emotional struggle is reminiscent of the American auto industry in the 1950s. People then felt the same kind of emotional attachment  to their choice of automobile brand that today they feel for the computer they drive. Ultimately, people ended up driving economical, agile, smaller cars and the Detroit dinosaurs perished, defeated by Asian imports.

The browser war may have quietly ended in detente. Magellan is gone of course. Netscape was crushed by Microsoft which, like IBM of old, tried to impose an “industry standard.” But for its corporate market share, the world would long ago have abandoned Microsoft’s Internet Exploder browser in favor of more standards compliant competitors. In fairness, over the years Microsoft browsers have gotten faster and better, though no better than the competition. A quick count shows three browsers on this computer: Microsoft’s IE9, Firefox 5.0, and Google Chrome 12. For diversity’s sake, I better install Opera 11.5 too.

I am not a geek. Maybe, I have a little nerd in me, but I’m not a techie. I am however consumed with the desire to master the Google. Anybody know where I can hang-out with a google-fu sensei?

Google+

Google+ excites me. Hell, Google excites me! If I was given to enthusiastic prognostication, I would say that Google will set the pace for Internet development over the next decade. Even knowing that a decade in dog years is a very, very long time and in Internet years it is practically forever, I would still say that! I would predict their dominance even knowing that they face stiff competition from Amazon, the monolithic web presence that dominates retail with its huge customer base and smart database software. I would predict Google’s dominance over Microsoft, the established leader in personal and networked computing, and I would predict that they will clobber Salesforce, another emerging player in the cloudy world of cloud computing.

I would not predict that Google+ will sink Facebook. Facebook today is a one-trick pony of a company that has done very well by ignoring bells and whistles, standards and usability, features and functions, and rather presenting itself as a relationship venue for people of all ages. Google is all about sophisticated programming, open standards and functionality. Google+ moves social software ahead by bringing personal control to asymmetric relationships through the use of self-defined “circles.” Ross Mayfield made a slideshare presentation that helps to explain circles: http://www.slideshare.net/ross/visual-guide-to-circles-in-google-by-ross

Right now Google+ is in a limited release version that the Googsters are calling a “field trial.” It’s not THAT exclusive, since I seem to have found my way inside. There are bugs and flaws. It’s not yet ready for a public release. If you decide to use it, be warned: you may discover something unusual. Like today I discovered that somehow all the Google searches in this household are being aggregated in my web history. This could be something specific to our router configuration, our wi-fi, the mingling of desktop devices with iPads and other alien Jobsian devices. It could have to do with how we manage gmail domains for our business and our home. This could have nothing to do with Google+ and everything to do with Google’s feature upgrades. Or maybe it’s a Chrome browser thing. Whatever the root cause, it’s wrong!

Google itself is getting a make-over. Google is always evolving. Its simple search features and functions evolve to keep up with the competition. The software and the intelligence behind advertising links become ever more sophisticated. Google has diversified well beyond the realm of “search.” The diversification has been powered by constant growth in share value. When the company went public in 2021 it closed the first day of trading with a market capitalization of $27 billion. Today Wall Street says it’s worth about $167 billion.

Google has led the way into the cloud. The company serves over three million business customers providing all kinds of business applications and data management services. Of course the Google+ project isn’t simply about business customers. It’s consumer driven, like Blogger and Picasa, two free software apps used by millions to share thoughts and pictures. According to Mashable, these apps will be re-branded and integrated with Google+. That excites me.

Google has long been a leader in the social software field, but it has never found the success that Facebook claims. Years ago, Google’s social software site Orkut emerged and quickly sank in the sea of competition here in the US. Globally, however, it remains one of the top 100 web destinations. It’s the top social software site for users in countries as diverse as Brazil and Estonia.  Google Buzz is a social software tool that’s integrated with Gmail. When Buzz was released the buzz about privacy problems almost killed it. But the signal to noise ratio in the Buzz conversation stream remains high because of the interesting people who choose to participate. Google+ with its emphasis on privacy moves Google a giant step further than Buzz in the social software race.

Right now in Wisconsin we are using Facebook as an organizing tool for our recall elections. The groups that share information have emerged organically from the huge population of Facebook users. I wonder what it will take to see that kind of organizing and community development happen on Google+.

Diffusion

Sometimes I need to post links from my browser tabs just to clear the board. Here they are, various trails I’ve wandered down in the past day or two, kicked out of the webulous undergrowth by email, tweet, blogs, or the FB soc-net:

Catching the Wave

Wave

Wave positions Google to smash and mash the worlds of social media and cloud computing, to drive a stake through the heart of traditional email, to sink Sharepoint and other proprietary collaboration tools. Wave is friendfeed on steroids and it is so much more.

“Wave is what email would look like if it were invented today,” according to Lars Rasmussen, co-inventor of the product. After watching the developer preview, I’ve gathered that Wave is:

  • “A personal communication and collaboration tool…”
  • “A simple communication object…”
  • “…an HTML5 app…”
  • Open source…
  • a shared object hosted on a server somewhere…
  • a return of the BBS bulletin board, but now with real time interaction…
  • a mash-up of email and IRC chat
  • shared screens with events registering real-time on all participants’ browsers, keystroke by keystroke
  • embeddable… you can embed a wave on any website
  • like a wiki only better — drag and drop file sharing!!

So, there’s a sophisticated threading that happens… you write, I watch what you write and I compose while you’re writing. Instead of the basic asynchronous nature of online chat or email, you doing a [write - wait - read] thing, while I do a [wait - read - write] thing, we become aware of each other in real time like in a real conversation and we compress those asynchronous [wait] intervals out of the interaction. Or, the conversation can, as in email, continue asynchronously if one of us is offline, away from the Wave.

Any time we want, we can pull in another participant, who can come up to speed by doing a “playback” of the entire interaction to that point: an instant replay of all the “he said/ she said/ he said/ he added/ she said…” stuff from the beginning of the conversation to the present. Any subset of participants can spawn their own “wavelet” within a wave to take a private conversation “offline,” hammer out an issue, and then rejoin the public conversation. The private interaction is available via playback to those who participated, but screened off from those who were not included. Playback allows us to track changes and to revert, making it chock full of wiki goodness.

Also wiki-like (but more powerful) is the drag and drop file sharing feature. I can drag a file from my desktop and drop it in the wave, essentially broadcasting it to everyone else who is on that wave. Sharing objects via drag and drop from the desktop to the browser isn’t yet supported by HTML5 so at this point it’s accomplished using Google Gears. The Wave team has put in a feature request to the HTML5 working group.

The Google Wave API supports extensions so applications can be built to interact with the Wave. The extensions are either “robots” or “gadgets” built to extend and enhance the Wave’s functions. A robot is an automated participant in a conversation buried deep under the covers. Robots interact with waves, talk with users and perform simple tasks like pulling up information such as stock quotes from outside sources. Gadgets? A gadget is a Google Wave extension that helps define the look and feel of the wave. A gadget can be the hub for an online game played by Wave participants. The Wave that contains the gadget is the gadget owner, not the user who added the gadget. Gadgets can be written with a text editor and hosted anywhere outside a firewall.

Mashable has a nice “Wave Guide” by Ben Parr that includes all the terminology you need to get comfortable with the Wave.

If you want to learn more Wave-ology, here is a list of links that can get you started:

Cloud Computing, Chrome, and Google Gears

What makes a browser fast? “Good enough for who it’s for,” may sound somewhat cynical, but it makes sense in context. Application speed expectations constantly shift to the right, it doesn’t matter what application you’re evaluating, and browsers are no exception. At the risk of irritating him, I’ll point to the browser speed comparisons that Tarquin (Mark Wilton-Jones) did a few years ago. I’m hoping he gets this gets updated with Chrome data before too long, but by now keeping the article up-to-date is probably as appealing to him as scraping chewing gum off the bottom of theater seats.

I have two browsers open right now. One is Firefox 3.0.1, the other is Chrome 0.2.149.29. Windows XP (SP3) task manager shows that the oodles of Firefox tabs I have open are chewing up one large lump of memory in a single process. If one of those tabs dies, the whole session dies with it. Firefox has never let me down in terms of recovery, but it’s annoying to have all the tabs go down at once because of a failure in one of those threads. Chrome, on the other hand, is running a process or two for every tab I’m using, and I understand that one of the processes craps out, that tab will die but the others will keep on working. This is a good thing for the future “cloud computing” user who will really truly be disappointed in a serious business-case kind of way when his browser dies in the middle of some complex work and communication.

Something else I get about Chrome is that “Google Gears” and Chrome are made for each. Cloud computing will require a stable browser with multiprocessing potential. To get a head start on understanding some of this I’ve signed up for a “Remember the Milk” account and I’ve begun to access it with Chrome.

Baby steps.

[tags]chrome, cloud computing, tarquin, google gears[/tags]