Phil Baumann

better living through enquiry

Posts in the google category

It’s Google, You Stunads!

Google's All-seeing Cloud-eyeA post over on O’Reilly Radar questions the stability of Google’s user-trust in the context of the discontinuation of its syndication service Reader.

What posts such as these miss, however, is that it’s not about Platforms – it’s about Missions. Platforms are simply buttresses for missions. Google’s mission is *extremely* stable – its Mission Statement is the most brilliant mission statement of any company – it’s the most encompassing yet focused corporate mission statement ever written. Google is currently the 3rd largest VC in the United States. It can afford to put its hands on anything, walk away from it, and then pick it up later (either via acquisition or reclamation) if there’s a pertinent market interest in it.

Does it “get” Social? It doesn’t matter because there isn’t much to “get”…other than creating a clean well-lit place for people to be social – whatever the heck that means when people are separated by electrons and keypads. Besides, time will tell – the social media stunads might not care for it, and it may not be all popular yet, but Google (unlike any other company) has plenty of time to grow the place. All that matters is data-collection for ad-placement upon *other* real-estate. Unlike every other social platform, G+ won’t need to insinuate advertisements into its users’ social streams (which would, in fact, make it a far more attractive social site once people get sick of algorithmic-based ads and sponsored non-sense on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. – how’s that for user-respect and Social-as-a-service?).  Google can afford to fund the Social game long-term because it’s the data that informs the revenue streams…not the LOLcats.

Google has the following: Mobile (Android), Cloudy Stuffs, Social, Search, Maps, Youtube, Chrome, Chromium, APIs out of their gord, BigQuerry (and Dremel), and a panoply of diversified assets to spiral out from its empiric center.  It also employs some of the smartest people in the industry, and has equity in ventures that very few people know about across multiple verticals, including: Life Sciences, Payment Processing, Energy, Gaming, Business Intelligence, and Data Analysis (think also indirect benefits arising out of symbiosis with CIA/NSA).

No other tech company comes remotely close to the shear size of cross-vertical power that Google possesses and expands. Google’s future has nothing to do with these little trinket toys like Keep or Reader (users may not see them that way, but in the big scheme of things, they’re just toys). RSS was a nice little scrape-script written when content on the web was becoming more dynamic. The times they have changed, however, and interfaces have matured (besides, what you are looking at when viewing social media sites is effectively RSS – FB, Twitter…they’re effectively RSS with CSS and other scripting commands layered on top to tart things up).

As for Google’s willingness to risk losing millions of Reader users (and I am one of them), Google’s omniscience of every single link clicked-through to ads informs the value of its assets. Google Reader may have benefited tech and other blogs, but Google knows just how tangible value all of that traffic actually did or did not render to its clients. Now, Google is privy to these numbers – whether or not they themselves were stunads in terminating the service (either as a move to force users towards G+ or for some other reasons) remains to be seen. But their decision only serves to lead to the essence of this post.

I’ve said it too many times – you own nothing on the web except your own domain. No company owes you anything. Google Reader isn’t yours, Facebook isn’t yours, Twitter isn’t yours, WordPress’ file-structure isn’t yours. The ‘self-hosted’ website you think is self-hosted isn’t yours – only if you own the servers that echo content to visitors. And even that ownership is tenuous. This is the nature of the Web. It will always be this way.

In a sense, “Stability as a service” may sound like a good thing to have in our time. The Internet, however, breeds nothing but instability. Alan Watts, not Seth Godin, is the man to pay attention in times like these.

Curious, then, that the ideologues of Open Source, Information-wants-to-be-free, Disruption-as-a-service, and the Social Media Revolution would be let-down when the planks drop out from under their feet.

Silicon Valley (the place and the metaphor) – and the stunads mesmerized by an ideology that sees life as a sequence of equations to be solved by algorithms – have a very important question completely inverted:

The question isn’t: “How will technology revolutionize the world”. The crucial question of our time is: “How will we revolutionize the technology.”

Google does what it does and will continue its shuffle of platform instability to serve its mission.

Complaining about the instability of a corporation’s data-traps isn’t terribly revolutionary, is it?

Then again, nor is this post.

But hopefully at least, it got you to think a bit regardless of how close to or far from the mark I am. And, in thinking a bit, you’ll think-through the importance of selecting ideologies that subsume and command technology’s trajectory and not the other way around.

Google products are free…of charge.

Democracy is not free. Its almost-impossible mission is to liberate us from our collective Stupidity-as-a-service.

Let’s not be stunads.

(Comments can be emailed – it’s more social that way.)

Getting beyond the hype and anti-hype over Google Wave, I’ve been exploring and experimenting with the collaboration platform since my invitation. While learning the new features and interacting with others on the service, I’m gaining some appreciation for the underlying technology Google claims will revolutionize how we communicate and collaborate.

I plan on a few more detailed posts and screencasts demonstrating Wave’s features, but here are some general ideas (at this point I’m running on science fiction) about how Wave (or its future analogues) could be used in a clinical setting. For a general overview, Mashable offers a comprehensive guide. I’ll offer a simple overview, but the main point of this post is to help answer the question: Does the underlying technology of Wave offer us any glimpse into improving clinical collaboration? It’s something ER physician Tim Sturgill asked recently (see his Person, Story, Data mock-up).

First the basics:

  • A Wave is the main component of the service – think of it is the main whiteboard containing all of the content and media to be generated, edited, communicated and collaborated around.
  • A Blip is the most basic unit of a Wave – similar to an IM message or a tweet.
  • A Wavelet is a thread of blips within a wave. You can have multiple wavelets within a wave.
  • Extensions: these invoke and provide additional functionalities beyond the basic communication basics of the service. There are two types: Robots and Gadgets.

Advanced Features: Robots & Gadgets:

It’s hard to visualize what a Wave Robot does, but in essence it “infuses” a wave with one or more functions. (I’m leaving out discussion of Gadgets in this post.) This is where Wave can get confusing but it’s also where Wave’s powers potentially shine. Here’s a list of Google Wave Extensions and Google’s samples gallery.

For example, there’s a robot called Cartoony which converts blips into cartoon bubbles. Surely this is frivolous, but when you see it in action, you realize what I mean by robots “infusing a wave with functionality”.

Another, more utilitarian bot is BingyBot, which answers participants questions. If you type a query, BingyBot acts like a regular participant offering you answers. Here’s short  video of it in action:


It’s these abilities of robots to infuse a wave with rich features which could prove useful in a clinical setting. Let me explain with a sci-fi hypothetical.

For purposes of this example we will set aside HIPAA & other privacy matters. Tall order, I understand – but I want us to envision what’s possible. Imagine a wave created by a physician in which she assembles key data about a patient’s admission, including media such as videos or images of diagnostic or surgical procedures.

Around those data elements, our physician could invite colleagues into the wave for clinical collaboration, opinion, etc. Similar processes are already being used in some facilities, but the next part is where Wave’s protocol gets interesting.

Remember the BingyBot? Now imagine introducing a clinical bot which is powerful enough to provide pertinent information to enhance the entire collaborative effort. Let’s call it ClinyBot. Say the bot can access research data or even link to relevant clinical trials for which the patient/case relates.

In essence, the bot would act as another participant to say something like Given the set of data I’m seeing, you may find this article on an experimental anti-neoplastic agent of interest. Or It seems like this patient may be a possible candidate for this clinical trial. Or Dr. Smith had these thoughts about this patient’s condition last week. You get the idea.

ClinyBot would “infuse” the clinical collaboration wave without being intrusive. And the bot could even be modified by the clinical collaborators during the wave according to their needs. Rather than clinicians pulling away from their patient data screen to perform research via another interface, the research can be done within the wave in real-time: either by manually invoking a particular function or letting robots do some of the work.

This is a new kind of collaboration because not only are human beings collaborating real-time around the same problem, a sophisticated piece of technology becomes a collaborator as well. We already have a robotic collaborator we use everyday: Google Search.

Yes, It’s Sci-Fi-y But So Was The Web

Does Google Wave represent a significant step forward in collaboration? I’m reserving judgment until I see development of its API – the current interface does not support proper filtering, notifying or other ways to curate and manage the copious flow of information.

Nevertheless, Wave tests users’ willingness to adapt communication skills to new media. It would be nice to see at least a mock case illustration of clinicians playing in a sandbox.

Of course ClinyBot itself is a figment of sci-fi imagination currently, but the thought-experiment demonstrates why clinicians may want to invest a little time understanding what the underlying technology of Google Wave may do for enhancing collaboration – and ultimately improving patient care.

If this is your field then do this: take a snapshot of where we are today in clinical collaboration and look out through the lens I’m offering; then find some realistic place in between and start building tomorrow today.

PS: This post started out of this wave (which, for now, you only see if you have a Wave account).

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google-graffitiGoogle is always working on new products. Many go nowhere, while others become darlings of web technologies like Gmail. Google’s latest entrance onto the Social Web its SideWiki. It’s not so much a wiki as it is an imposed commenting system. Whether you want it or not, SideWiki effectively enables anyone in the world to comment on your website.

Not only can people comment on your site without your permission but they can also share their comments via email, Twitter or FaceBook (as of today). In other words comments in SideWiki can be dispersed and distributed and Re-Tweeted and Liked across the web at the speed of light. If your organization has a website, you probably want to brace yourself for a bitch slap: whatever “control” you thought you had about your message is clearly gone. Controlling your response (and being ahead of the game by being the best at what you do) is about all you have.

Picture 225


I’ll let Google explain to you it’s claim about SideWiki.

In order for SideWiki to be used, it has to be downloaded and used as a toolbar. Right now, it seems to work with FireFox but as Google refines and evolves the product, we could expect to see the tool proliferate in use.

I tested out SideWiki on a post by Seth Godin regarding his Brands in Public project. I chose his post for two reasons: Seth has comments on his blog turned off (he’s remarkable with email exchanges with his readers though) and SideWiki demonstrates how little control brands have anymore in “controlling messages”. If you downloaded the tool bar, you can see my SideWiki comment on his post. Alternatively you can see my comment on my Google Profile (it just appeared there under a Sidewiki tab – Google didn’t offer this as an option, nor did it inform me it posted my Sidewiki comments on my Google Profile – but I’m sure I consented somehow in Google’s TOS).

An important feature to note is that comments on SideWiki aren’t necessarily in order of appearance – i.e. reverse chronological, as in traditional blog commenting. Rather, Google’s mystery algorithm sorts out the order of comments. I also suppose Google will somehow address spam. For more on this, see Danny Sullivan’s post.

So we not only have an imposed commenting system, we have – in some sense – Google’s algorithmic logic being applied to your website in the way comments appear. Which is to say: Google influences the volume of influencers‘ voices. You’re not just dealing with comments streaming down a straight temporal line: community voting on comments and Google’s ranking system of those comments work together to determine the pitch and tone and loudness of comments.

Finally, questions remain about SideWiki’s ramifications on search results. Clearly, there’s a lot to absorb here, which is one more reason to establish best online practices and keep focused on principled online communications.


I don’t know if SideWiki has a future or not. SideWiki isn’t the first attempt at web annotation. But now that social networking and services are growing in their adoption, we can expect to see the proliferation of distributed messaging. Whether SideWiki fails or succeeds, the technology it represents is here to stay in some form.

Organizations which already have a web presence or those who are just now planning to enter the social web, now have an even tougher task ahead of them. And yet, for every challenge or danger lies opportunity. Those organizations which not only can face the challenges that mass distributed messaging create but also leverage the opportunities will fare well in the coming years. Organizations won’t die just because they ignore social media – but ignoring these technologies and communities is now a matter of Risk Management at the least.

What I find especially interesting here is this: how many organizations will even know about this? How many hospitals or Pharma companies or widget-makers will have hundreds of comments (positive or negative) right on their website (for all intents and purposes) and not even know about them? How embarrassing could that become?


In a nutshell, individuals and organizations are going to have to endure a process of radical acceptance: the days of mechanically generating attention via advertisements are giving way to a century of organically captivating fandom.

I would categorize two approaches to dealing with commenting systems like SideWiki: the Philosophical and the Practical.

Philosophical recommendations:

  1. Meditate. Seriously. Go out into a field or sit under a shady tree and focus on your breathing, reflecting on all of the marketing principles and assumptions you’ve made since college and over the course of your career. It’s not too late for a re-view and re-think. (And never too early for a layoff.)
  2. Radically Accept. We all want control. (I was an ICU nurse – ergo I’m a control freak, so I understand how hard this one is.) The fact is, about the only thing we can control is our mind: how we view things, what we decide, what we say and how we say it. Once you forgo the controlling-mentality, it frees you up for the important stuff, such as: clarity, creativity, fearlessness, discipline and focus.

Practical recommendations:

  1. Download the SideWiki toolbar and monitor for activity on your site – even if you don’t have a blog or are philosophically opposed to it.
  2. Set a policy (a simple one) on how your organization responds to comments.
  3. Whoever does your responding should know how to communicate, display grace under pressure and criticism and who understands the various modes of communications.
  4. Keep up-to-date with Google’s project by following it on Twitter.
  5. Currently, SideWiki doesn’t appear to offer a notification system, so be prepared to comb through comments (or monitor Twitter for your brand mentions).
  6. Keep honing your online communications skills: if you don’t already blog, consider doing so if only for the discipline and skills that come along with blogging.

It remains to be seen how popular this little feature will become: as is often the case in the Sillicon Valley hyper-echo-chamber, the uber-geeks tend to overstate the appeal of shiny new toys. Regardless, if you haven’t learned the lesson about how to prevail in a chaotic world, this is your chance. At least you’ll be able to endure and overcome the inevitable bitch slaps that you’ll sustain now and again.


A last point to make is the future of SideWiki (or similar tools): the integration of other social features which enhance its powers.

For instance, I realized while writing this post that you could comment on a Twitter Status page using SideWiki. If Google added a FriendFeed-like commenting system, one could easily start a chat around a particular tweet – currently Twitter chats take place using hashtags and clients like TweetChat. Imagine configuring SideWiki not only as a Twitter client but also as a web-wide social device for curating, sharing and conversing. Click on the screenshot below:

Picture 229

SideWiki on a Twitter status page

It’s integrations like these that usually lead to the next big thing. All the more reason for organizations to keep current with the social web – and for hiring and cultivating the people who excel in the useful and innovative applications of these sorts of technologies.

Google, so far, hasn’t done well in the social front – at least not thus far. If FaceBook were to exploit their recent FriendFeed acquisition and make a play for a similar real-time web-wide commenting and sharing system, we could see the emergence of a new kind of war: Google has the edge in search and advertising, Facebook in social media and Twitter in real-time messaging.

At any rate, the future is open for your organization to consider. Two posts I’d recommend you read right now on Google’s SideWiki are Andrew Keen’s SideWiki: Google Colonial Sideswipe and Jeremiah Owyang’s Google SideWiki Shifts Power to Consumers – Away From Corporate Websites. Both men have wholly different opinions about the fundamental nature of the web – and both are probably right about Google SideWiki.

Oh, and you can comment on this post using SideWiki and then tweet it to the rest of the world. Let’s see if I can keep up with the graffiti.

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