22 February 2011

Back to Internet Explorer?

Even though I love playing around with new software and apps, I’ve been putting off testing the new version of Internet Explorer, waiting for something closer to the finished product. About a week ago the release candidate became available, so it was high time for the testing to begin.

The installation was smooth and quick and didn’t even require a reboot; it just prompted me to close the other browsers, Windows Explorer, the IM client and, surprisingly, Microsoft Security Essentials. That doesn’t really seem like a good idea, but I went with it anyway to get things done quicker. The first impression is certainly positive: the browser is very responsive, both the UI and page loading. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s faster then Chrome, but they feel pretty close. But if you start using Internet Explorer longer, some quirks are starting to surface. As they say, the devil is in the details.

15 February 2011

What I expect from Google Me (3)

The feature set

  • Complex filters: like Gmail enhanced filters in email and introduced more flexible labels, Me could hugely improve organization in the stream by offering customizable filters and the ability to save them as custom views. Even the current filters in Facebook do a great job at surfacing content that would otherwise be lost in a sea of updates about apps and new connections. It would be even better to create your own filters and add them to a sidebar, like labels in Gmail. Every time you click the ‘label’, you see only those updates; for example links from your ‘outer circle’, photos from a particular group or list of groups, new contacts and events in your professional network, books your close friends are reading; and the list can go on forever. And a final twist: offer the option to choose one of the filters – either built-in or custom – as the starting screen whenever you log in; maybe even a different one based on whether you are using it on the desktop or mobile.

  • Alerts: if filters can help organize large amounts of updates, alerts would be more specific, suited for rarer events that you don’t want to miss. Like when your sister gives birth and a family member posts about it; or when a friend moves to another city; or when somebody starts reading a book you also read, to give you a chance to discuss it with them. You could define alerts targeted at specific people or – more general – sources of content, with certain words or update types. Or set an alert for a single update, without publicly liking or commenting on it; since this could be a frequent activity it would be nice to have it as a single-click action, starring the update for example. As I read recently, there are already a number of start-ups offering social alerts. Both filters and alerts could be great use cases for the extensive social search mentioned in the first part.

14 February 2011

What I expect from Google Me (2)

Better control over privacy and the news feed

Facebook runs on a very stiff, crude model of what people are like. It herds everybody — friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade — into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure. On Facebook, there is one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You’re friends with your spouse, and you’re friends with your plumber. Lev Grossman’s profile on Mark Zuckerberg for Time

Much has been said about the (in)ability of Facebook to model real-life human relationships or that they should allow unidirectional connections – the ‘follower’ model – like Twitter. Not to mention the convoluted and ever changing privacy settings. In my opinion, a system with three levels of privacy would be more flexible, while remaining relatively easy to manage:

  • The inner circle – friends: this would hold your real-life friends, people you trust and communicate with often. Naturally it will contain a small number of people, but they would have access to pretty much everything you do on the network: your real-time location, your current and future events, are allowed to tag you in photos and can see them, have access to your full contact details, can chat with you, add you to groups, etc. This will basically function like the early-days , a private network with people you actually know and want to actively keep in touch.

  • The outer circle – connections: containing more casual connections, people you worked with or members of the same club or gym, old friends you no longer keep in touch with, it should have tighter default privacy controls. People on this level can only see some of your contact details – no home address or phone numbers, maybe only one more generic email address, location restricted to city-level and events to free/busy indicators; if they tag you in photos you should be able to approve the tags first. And I wouldn’t mind an option to prevent them from inviting me to play games or use apps. This could become similar to LinkedIn or to the present-day Facebook, but without limits on the number of connections you can add.

  • The public realm. Here the two-way connection would be replaced by the follower model to create a network similar to or FriendFeed, where you could follow people with similar interests, publicly share links and status updates and comment on them.

The profile should also reflect the three privacy levels: display everything for friends, less information for connections and even more closed for the public; at this level users could also be allowed to replace their real name with a pseudonym.

13 February 2011

What I expect from Google Me (1)

In an online world marked by ’s seemingly unstoppable growth, rumors about a competing service built by Google have spread for the better part of last year. It has been talked about in numerous blog posts, on Google Buzz and it even has its own topic at Quora as well as sparked debates about social networking in general; the big tech blogs have published every bit of rumor about possible features or launch date. I have my own ideas about what Google Me should offer, which I will outline in a series of three articles; a single one would likely grow too long for comfort. So let’s begin with:

Search, search, search!

Web search was Google’s main area of expertise from the start and helped propel the company to the giant status on the Internet it enjoys today. Some even argue it’s still the only thing is clearly successful at. But with the rise of social networks and real-time updates, a new, more personal facet of the web developed that eluded the established model of indexing, diminishing the power of normal search. Right now, I can easily locate conversations I had with my friends years ago or even Google chats, which are stored in Gmail. But if you try that on any social network, you will come up frustrated and empty handed. So large chunks of your online – and personal – history are drifting away as I write this, never to be recovered again.