In Nashville, a city that is in the midst of an unprecedented building boom, a prime piece of property has not participated in the boom. Instead, it became first, a giant hole and then, one of the most expensive lakes a person can imagine. However, Google Maps isn’t a person and it had no problem imagining it. Google Maps has spent the past several years codifying the creation of the giant lake on West End Avenue.
November 14, 2014, via Reuters:
Of 16 Glass app makers contacted by Reuters, nine said that they had stopped work on their projects or abandoned them, mostly because of the lack of customers or limitations of the device. Three more have switched to developing for business, leaving behind consumer projects.
Last year, I observed in a post–one that included an email exchange with Don Norman of Nielson-Norman and author of The Design of Everyday Things–that I believed the product release of Google Glass was bungled by Google. As much as I’m a fan and customer of many services provided by Google, they have a way of consistently demonstrating a lack of understanding of the importance of “customer” when it comes to marketing non-search products. (They’re better these days with some categories of business-to-business services, however.)
(Yesterday, I blogged about something being called “explanatory journalism.” It provides some background for this post.)
I ran out of time dashing off that post, but wanted to mention a business-to-business media company that rose out of the blogosphere and has become what I believe is a model for a successful business-to-business news enterprise that demonstrates, even if they’ve never used the term, a great model for blending “news journalism” and “explanatory journalism.”
Search Engine Land and its editor-in-chief Danny Sullivan are the definitive source on news related to the search engine industry (which means, Google, Bing and specialized search engines). As this is a topic that can attract the worst elements of the internet (those who believe they can “out-smart” Google), I’ve always been impressed by Search Engine Land’s ability to cover a topic from a definable (and defendable) point of view that clearly advocates an ethical and gimmick-free approach to search marketing. At the same time, I’m sure there are those who follow Danny’s every word in order to reverse engineer his explanation in an effort to “beat Google.” (As I’ve always written on this blog, if your SEO guru consultant tells you he or she can beat Google, ask yourself, “Is this person actually smarter than the army of engineers at Google?)
However, a more nuanced way in which Search Engine Land has always impressed me is the ability Danny and other writers there (Matt McGee comes to mind) have to add a layer of explanation to whatever a breaking news story may be. There can be some new announcement from Google in the morning and by mid-afternoon, there is a massive point-by-point break down of what is taking place and why it is important. The ability to be in the middle of a breaking news story and write thoughtful, easy to understand, non-jargon-dependent explanations of what’s taking place is a skill few people master. That’s why so many people write in buzzwords.
Another reason I thought of Search Engine Land when the topic of “explanatory journalism” hit the radar yesterday was the way in which Danny wrote a recent post explaining “Why Search Engine Land Will & Won’t Cover Someone Being Penalized By Google.” In his post, labeled an “open letter,” Danny does a thorough job in explaining what factors go into deciding what is, and is not, a news story on Search Engine Land. In an approach that is akin to the concept Dave Winer has described as narrating your work, this post turns the same explanatory skills used to describe what’s important in the industry he covers to explaining how decisions are made in his own company.
Explanatory Journalism and Business-to-Business Media
As someone who has spent almost three decades hanging out with publishers and editors of traditional business-to-business media (meaning, they were around before the internet existed), I have often been perplexed by the editorial decisions they make. The majority of coverage seems to focus on transactions of the industries they cover: job changes, corporate transactions (company launches, fundings, acquisitions, closings, etc.), contracts gained or lost, and product announcements.
Yes, that type of flow is of interest, but it’s less valuable than the kind of explanatory journalism that provides context and instruction and a point-of-view that helps someone make better decisions related to that news. But such journalism requires reporters who know as much about the topic they’re covering as the people they cover. And that doesn’t seem to be the world in which we’re living these days.
While the same content approach (transaction-obsessed) seems to have followed business-to-business media to the web (Exhibit A: Tech websites that confuse news about the latest start up and round of funding with what’s taking place in an industry), there are other sites, like Search Engine Land, that are pioneering a new type of editorial model that blend traditional business-to-business coverage with an adaptation of something akin to “explanatory journalism,”
Simply put, Search Engine Land (and its conferences worldwide, I’m guessing) have found that sweet spot where a business-to-business media company can seamlessly blend serious breaking-news types of journalism with other forms of contextual and “how-to” helpful information that enable an audience to understand and do their jobs better.
(Note: I don’t mean to imply there aren’t some traditional media companies that have mastered the art of explanatory journalism. Many serve as the knowledge marketplace of the industries they serve.)
If you are like most of the inhabitants of earth, you won’t recognize any difference.
If you are like some of my friends and have followed (in my case, from the high-up bleacher seats) the nuanced RSS battles over the past 12 or so years, you might recognize that by exiting the reader product space, Google is offering the world a mulligan on their failed shot at creating a decent news reader. (Or, as Dave Winer suggests, Google’s failed attempt at “efficiently killing RSS.”)
If you use Google Reader, you’ve likely discovered there are lots of alternatives that, in my opinion, are already superior to Google Reader.*
Frankly, at this point, we can all benefit if lots of innovators are battling it out.
When Google announced it was pulling the plug on Google Reader, I posted something that, at the time, seemed contrary to what lots of people were writing who were lamenting its demise. I thought then, and still do: Good riddance!
I won’t repeat it all, but here is a highlight of the post I titled, “Google Reader was a Google Pigpen product”:
“While I’ve used Google Reader to catch and organize content syndicated via RSS, I’ve never used Google Reader as a news reader…You can usually tell when Google is very committed to a new product (when you can connect dots from the product to something that competes with Apple, Facebook, Microsoft or Amazon) and when it isn’t (it usually has the term “labs” associated with it). And, unfortunately for everyone who could have been better served by a great RSS newsreader, Google Reader has always been as “Pigpen” as it gets. It just never felt like it had a champion inside Google with enough clout to make it anything more than mediocre.”
The web, as we use it today, is dependent on the data and information and content that flow through the magic tubes of the internet called RSS. And for as long as there has been RSS, there have been those who have predicted its demise. (But not me.)
The end of Google Reader is in no way the end of RSS.
As said in that Pigpen Post, the end of Google Reader is a good thing for those who want to see developers come up with different types of readers or apps or whatever can help us get to the information we each find most important to us individually.
Those of us who have spent the past decade trying to make the internet’s content flow past us in some orderly way (or to enjoy its river-like rapids from time to time) are not too concerned with Google Reader going away.
We gave up on it a long time ago.
*Here’s a roundup of alternative on Lifehacker.com. My temporary approach has been to export my subscriptions to an OPML backup file and use Feedly.com for the time-being. Feedly.com is definitely the bouquet-catching bridesmaid in the Google Reader shut-down–if nothing more than for the fact they were already in the process of trying to create a more user-friendly alternative “client” for using Google Reader. But stay-tuned – Feedly may find their current status short-lived in the far front edges of the world inhabited by never-pleased geek early adopters.
@ToddGailun Google glass are well done. I’ve worn them. Beautiful, but are they functional? The developer community will find out.
— Don Norman (@jnd1er) May 1, 2013
A few months ago, right after the first batch of Google Glass(es)–sorry, I have a problem with the singular/plural thing–were sold to a group of customers who entered a contest for the privilege of paying $1,500 to Google before anyone else, it appeared to me that the release was a bit premature and totally mishandled by Google.
In my opinion, the early buyers seemed a bit too cliché tech-geek to help Google position the product as anything more than a gizmo for males who are gadget-obsessed. Those who were showing up wearing them have an appeal to a certain passionate audience, but they were not exactly the kind of individuals you’ll find at the front end of a fashion movement. (While I am a fan of Robert Scoble, I believe he could have come close to scorching the non-geek earth for Google Glass with that (in)famous shower photo.)
Recent stories focusing on NBA draftees wearing Google Glass(es) or doctors using them in surgery are what will get people’s mind off of just thinking about the product’s obvious and, in this case, literally, in-your-face, goofiness. (Sidebar for those who might forget history: I ran across this story earlier this morning about Steve Wozniak’s recollection of thinking the first Mac was a lousy computer and a failure.)
When those first Google Glass(es) photos started showing up, I began to look for quotes about them from Don Norman, but couldn’t find any.
As I can hear the non-tech people who are among the 12 readers of this blog already asking, I’ll go ahead and say it: “Who is Don Norman?”
One of my go-to authors on the design of technology is Norman, partner with Jakob Nielson at Nielson-Norman and author of many books on product design, including one of my favorite, The Design of Everyday Things. Norman was the first person I can recall (perhaps there were others, but I’m talking about when it hit my radar) writing extensively on the idea that the goal of technology should be invisibility. Indeed, I associate that idea with Norman so much that a couple of years ago, it surprised me when Apple led off the introduction of the iPad 3 with a video that sounded like a Don Norman manifesto that opened with the line, “We believe that technology is at its very best when it’s invisible.”
It surprised me because I couldn’t find any attribution to Norman.
So when Google Glass(es) were (was) released, I searched for any comments Norman may have made on the device. To me, the device seems to be invisible (to the user) and way too visible (to anyone who saw that photo of Scoble).
Finding nothing official, I located a page on Don Norman’s website called, “Ask Don” and made sure that my question fit his guidelines (I think “Don’t ask me things you can find with Google” was one of the guidelines.)
Here’s what I wrote:
When I see the device that Google calls Glass, I wonder, “What would Don Norman think?” As I’m familiar with your writing about the invisibility of technology, I look at them and think, how can something be *more* visible. However, that’s because I’m looking at them, rather than wearing them. Perhaps they are invisible to those wearing them.
As I’ve also read some of your thoughts on Google (rex note: see Gigaom.com quote by Norman: “Google doesn’t get people, it sells them.” ), I know where you’d likely stand on the issue of what Google gets out of the deal — just one more way of selling its users to advertisers and others.
So, I guess I’m asking what do you think about the path such a device leads us toward– and is that the proper path technology should take?
That Google is doing it may not be the point — they haven’t proven to be the most adept mass marketers and such a device that depends on marketing to someone other than geeky white males may not be their forte.
My question, therefore, is this: If a future iteration of such long-promised device as Google Glasses evolves to where the
technology disappears and some beneficial outcome is delivered, is that the correct direction such technology and product design should journey for a mainstream usage?
Or is it just creepy?
A few weeks later, this response came:
Thanks for the mail. (Sorry for the delay — heavy traveling season.)
Google glass is an experiment, and i think it far too soon to be drawing conclusions. Radical changes in products can take decades to reach wide acceptance and in cases like thius, for people to figure out what to do with them and how society should deal with it.
I’ve worn the glass: it is reasonably invisible to the wearer.
As for whether this is the proper path, who knows?
Paths that seem simple and safe later turnout to be deadly (e.g., the automobile). Paths that seem dangerous (e.g., vaccination) end up saving lives. I see many potential dangers of the glass. But I do not yet know how it will play out (nobody knows).
As for google’s inept ability to understand people, marketing, and the consumer market. Yeah.
But ideas such as Google glass are hear to stay, even if it isn;t Google who does it.
These things have been in the resarch labs for years.
The main novelty about google’s approach is the public release of glasses that are reasonably well designed (by a real industrial designer).
Even if you think them geeky, they are by far the nicest set of wearable display devices I have yet seen, and I have seen hundreds.
As I’ve been traveling a bit recently and buried deep on a project, I haven’t seen if Don has commented on his site or elsewhere on this topic. Now he has. And a public thanks to Don Norman.
Shameless addendum: In his email, Norman also told me about a project he’s doing related to cooking and was nice enough to say, “Hammock seems like a very insightful marketing company. (When) the first thing i saw on your company website was: “When you sell someone a pot or pan, you generate a transaction. When you help a customer become a great cook you build a relationship. Our philosophy precisely. Neat.”)