Curious Things Are Afoot, Part 3: Google Plus and the New Paradigm

Some people have too much endurance... and time...

In Part Two, we looked at how social might impact real estate, if it is in fact taken very seriously indeed.  All of it triggered by the acquisition of by Move, signaling a major strategic move into social.

In yet another display that the universe has a sense of humor, the announcement came at the heel of Google+ being released to the public. If you have even a passing interest in things social media, you’ve probably been playing around with Google+, reading various opinions about it, and either loving it, or hating it.

Initially, I thought Google+ was evidence that Sergey Brin and Co. had too much money. Since they don’t know what else to do with all that cash, I figure they said, “Hey, let’s just make a Facebook clone; that’s only a $100 billion company.”

But an incredibly clever presentation, done via photos on Google+, made me rethink. And now I believe Google+ might be a sign of something rather visionary. That is a Curious Thing that has strapped on sneakers, so let’s take a look at it.

The Wisdom of Vincent Wong

First of all, you have to go check out this presentation done as a photo album on Google+ by one Vincent Wong (@fttechfounder). You’ll likely want to join his circle or whatever. Go view the whole thing; I’ll be here.

An absolutely fantastic presentation, done as a photo album. And brilliant to boot.

Okay, so now that you’ve been through the presentation, we can talk.

Vincent is absolutely right when he says that we totally missed the fact that a suite of Google’s online applications is right there in the top menubar. He thinks that what is in the pipeline is the integration of social into Google Docs, into Gmail, into Google Calendar, and Google Contacts. In short, he’s envisioning a new desktop that has social DNA.

As he writes, “I’d really worry if I was Microsoft”.

As if to corroborate, here’s a post (?)/update (?)/tweet (?) by one Mike Elgan:

Instead of saying, “I’m going to write a blog post now,” or “I’m going to send an e-mail” or “I think I’ll tweet something” you simply say what you have to say, then decide who you’re going to say it to.

If you address it to “Public,” it’s a blog post.

If you address it to “Your Circles” it’s a tweet.

If you address it to your “My Customers” Circle it’s a business newsletter.

If you address it to a single person, it can be a letter to your mother.

I’d say this is pretty revolutionary.

Mike Elgan happens to be a writer and columnist who covers technology topics for publications like Computerworld, PC World, InfoWorld, MacWorld, CIO Magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others.

Why is this such a big deal?

The Dream of Internet 2.0

When this whole social thing began back in 2003 or so (the Wikipedia history of Web 2.0 says so anyhow), the idea was that the Internet would go beyond another media channel and fulfill the original vision of Tim Berners-Lee as a place to meet, collaborate and share. Sci-fi novels such as Snow Crash gave us what the vision might actually look like, and there have been attempts aplenty to try to make the Internet more than a set of web pages.

The Web 2.0 hype was just that: hype. Because companies that embody the whole Web 2.0 movement may be wonderful or crappy companies, but they were still all doing stuff in websites. Social and sharing became the buzzwords of a decade, and suddenly everyone decided that he is in fact a media company, but he was still going to a website to do it. Facebook, which everyone thought revolutionized the Internet, is still a webpage to which you go and do all of your sharing and interacting in Zuckerberg’s walled garden.

To be fair, Facebook did launch an ambitious initiative to try go transcend the limits and constraints of the Internet 1.0 vision last year with Open Graph. Here’s a post from Search Engine Land that discusses it:

That aside, the vision articulated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Bret Taylor, formerly of Google and Friend Feed (acquired by Facebook), is of a more social internet, where relationships between people and things replace links between pages. The vision represents a shift from a Google-centric internet comprised of billions of unrelated documents and sites to a Facebook centric one where social relationships and affiliations are the connective tissue in a vast network.

But it turns out that Facebook was still operating in the border between what the Internet is, and what the Internet could be. All they sought to do was to create a separate Internet comprised of its 500 million users worldwide, with Facebook messaging replacing email, with Facebook events replacing other sites, etc. A Facebook-centric world of social relationships, rather than a Google-centric world of webpages and documents.

In niche areas, such as online gaming (World of Warcraft) or virtual worlds that are inspired by it (SecondLife), we got much closer to what the vision of the Internet as being more than a set of webpages, but a place to meet, share, and collaborate could be. But those things are strictly niche products; it turns out that the average person doesn’t really want to have to learn whole new controls, worry about avatars, and so on. That’s for gamers. And the games/worlds did not provide a really great way to share documents/objects/information from outside the world. It’s awfully hard to share a great blogpost I just read through the World of Warcraft mail system, for example.

What Google+ could be, if Vincent is correct, and if that’s what Google people want to do, and they can actually manage to pull it off — jeez, that’s a whole lot of IF’s ain’t it? — is to take the first real concrete step towards Internet 2.0.

People thought that Facebook would try, but would fail because it didn’t have a great search engine, like Google. It turns out, Facebook could not because it didn’t have applications.

Ah, Applications!

Vincent pointed out something that we all know, and remember from time to time, but do not think about enough. He asked, “Do you know how often people still email photos/documents/spreadsheets?”  He’s absolutely correct. I do it myself dozens of times a day.

Think about your typical workday. Maybe you have to write up a memo, or work on a spreadsheet for a client. So you open up your Microsoft Word or Excel, do your thing, and then open up a mail program, attach the document to the email, and send it along with some sort of intro in the email: “Hey, take a look at this, would you, and give me comments?” To schedule a meeting, emails go back and forth, or phone calls, and then one person sends out via email a Meeting Invite from his calendar program.

This behavior is true even when I have Google Docs, even when I use things like Timebridge, or Basecamp. Rather than working directly in the Cloud and sharing things, I use apps to create stuff, then an email app to share stuff.

In our day to day life, the applications are at the center of it all. Even games are applications. And because we work in applications, do productive things in applications, time spent in the social world — whether Twitter or Facebook or blogs or whatever — seems like play. (Unless your job is to do social media things on those websites.)

We’re still there, in App-world. Google+ does not change that. Not yet.

But it could! Go re-read what Mike Elgan wrote.

Think about Google Spreadsheet being completely, 100% integrated with Google+. Think about Google Contacts (found inside Gmail) being the same thing as your Circles on Google+. Think about everything you do today, using desktop applications, having all that social baked right into it.

Yeah, this could be revolutionary. Yes, Microsoft should worry. But so should Apple. And anybody who write computer software for a living. Your new OS might be called Google+….

A World Without Websites?

Since Google itself, and Google+ for today, is a website with a URL and such, it seems odd to think that this project might be the one to usher in a new era of an Internet without websites. But that’s exactly what I can see happening.

Why did I have to visit this here website, to open up a WordPress app installed on the server, to write this blogpost, then rely on people sharing it via Twitter, Facebook, email, or whatever? Why couldn’t I have just written it in some word processing application, then just clicked a sharing setting to make it go Public?

What is the difference between an email and a status update, except the people I want to send it to? When is a calendar necessary to do a meeting, while I have to use some website to organize a party?

What Google grasped is that there is no difference between any of those applications, those uses, except the audience. I think that’s potentially a big deal.

The website is not going away, of course. No medium of communication has eliminated any previous medium of communication. Radio did not make newspapers extinct, and TV did not kill off radio. Once upon a time, media executives worried that the Internet would destroy television; word is, people are watching more TV than ever before, while using the Web to look up information on the actors, get extras, and so forth.

But the “website” as we know it today — a single, self-enclosed entity, with a hierarchical information architecture — might go away. And be replaced by a new kind of a “website” that is a set of aggregated conduits from various distributed applications with strong sharing enabled on a common platform. Maybe the “blog” part of the new “website” is just Google Docs that’s been shared with the Public sphere, while the “About Us” part is someone’s profile in Contacts with certain sharing enabled. Who knows?

Perhaps the whole notion of “going to” a website goes away, and replaced by having content “come to” them, because it’s been shared to them by someone who can. Is there a need for such a thing as a “portal” or a “vertical search engine” in such a world?

Why Do We Care Again?

Right about now you’re thinking, that’s all very nice, but… so what? Why do I care?

To my marketing friends, let me ask this: In such a world as described, what is an advertisement? How would you reach people who may no longer be visiting a “destination website”, but pulling in everything from people and places they want?

To my real estate data friends: What is a “listing” in a fully realized Internet 2.0 world? What is IDX? What is syndication in a Internet 2.0 world?

If the nature of “computing” changes that dramatically, how would it not affect each and every one of us?

To be sure, all of this is very fanciful speculation, with a lot of IF, IF, and more IF’s thrown in to boot. But it’s fun to speculate, isn’t it?


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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2 thoughts on “Curious Things Are Afoot, Part 3: Google Plus and the New Paradigm”

  1. Excellent series so far. I love Google but I also fear them. Don’t know why other than when power is so entrenched bad things can and do happen. So far, Google seems to always do pretty much the right thing, but times change.

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