Inverse Social Network

In thinking about what I really want out of a social network (that is not currently available), I really want the inverse of what a typical social network currently is.

The State of Today’s Social Networks

Roughly speaking, today’s social networks are all about allowing an individual to share information with the rest of the world (pictures, contact information, blog-like thoughts, etc. ) and communicate with “friends” (or receive communications from friends). Clearly, there are different flavors of these networks — LinkedIn serves a different purpose than Facebook — and so the features they highlight and the usage patterns of these features are going to be different.

What’s the problem and what is missing?

The problem here is that people will automatically filter what they’re willing to share to the lowest common denominator. If you are “friends” with your boss, your mom, and your best friend and you don’t want to share everything with all of them, chances are you’ll pull back and limit what you share. Clearly this is an issue unto itself but I won’t touch that because I think you can get around this with groups and group level privacy settings.

This lowest common denominator effect does highlight something else though, and that is that there is clearly a lot of information missing from someone’s profile. More precisely, all of the information I know about someone else is missing from their profile and in many cases this is the really critical information about someone.

For example, if I know my boss’s kid’s name but he doesn’t want to reveal that for the whole world to see on his LinkedIn profile, I actually have a unique piece of information that is quite valuable. Or, if I have a casual acquaintance who has let me know his hometown but who has not publicly offered this information, again I have some unique knowledge about that person that I may want to remember.

Inverse Social Network

Rather than seeing a page of what someone is willing to share there is a lot of information that I know about people that I would like to merge with the information they’re willing to share. This way what you end up with when you’re looking at a profile page of person A is a complete snapshot of everything you know about that person. With a simple search and tagging feature I think this could be really powerful because I would be able to remember everything I ever knew about someone. If I’m going to have a meeting with a client, I can pull up their page and see everything I know about them. If I’m going to see a friend from out of town that I haven’t seen in 6 months and I have no idea what his brother’s name is, I can look it up.

And I may even want to share what I know with other people who may find it useful. So if I have a group of friends whom I trust, I may want to share information about my boss or one of our mutual friends so that we all have access to the same information. I think this sort of sharing would make people afraid but there isn’t much you can do to stop it in the first place. If I tell my friend what my boss’s kid’s name is and he happens to remember it, that pretty much accomplishes the same thing today.

I could imagine this being integrated with an email client as well so that I can easily reference information about people I’m emailing, and perhaps being a browser plug-in so that the information is available while I’m viewing their facebook profile, myspace profile, or linked-in profile…maybe with some greasemonkey or just a simple window overlay that slides in and out easily with a key combination on the keyboard.

I think this would be a huge win for anyone who has a lot of meetings — namely anyone in the business world.

Who Should Build This?

I think he best candidate is probably LinkedIn. They have the right demographic of users and it would fit in nicely with their existing social network. It would also allow them to move into having more of a browser and desktop presence, and if it gets popular enough on the desktop/browser they would end up with the really interesting side effect of knowing which profiles on different social networks are actually the same people so you’d end up with an uber-graph of people connected to each other.

The other type of company that might benefit from this is a startup, exactly because if they end up with good penetration, they would be able to overlay friendships across different social networks on top of each other and create linkages between different social networks. I don’t know how you would monetize that off the top of my head but it seems like useful data.

So someone please go build it. Thanks.

A high quality news program on the Internet

Someone should put together a good comprehensive summary of the news and post it on YouTube. The problem with network news is that they have to fill it with feel good stuff, celebrity junk, and have commercials that take up 30% of the on-air time.

You could even exploit the long tail and do some fancy personalization if you recorded say 100 short segments that covered the major headlines of the day. You could then have standard transitions that you use between segments that are also pre-recorded. Based on a profile people create you could you could automatically slice together different segments that might be of interest to that user.

You could also have a few “stock” compilations for things like world news, US news, politics, entertainment news, etc. People could just come to these and hit play without having to sign in or save/create a profile.

Why is this better than reading the news? For the same reason that going to a lecture is better than a book. If you can see it AND hear it, it’s far easier to stay engaged and just reading on your own is a lot more effort. There are a lot of people out there who would rather listen and watch the news than read it and have to hunt around for the most relevant stories.

So start simple, do a news recap without all the crap on most news shows, put it on YouTube and get a userbase. Then launch your own site with high quality production and personalization. Done and done.

Camping Out for MacWorld

On January 8th, 2007, a group of young product managers from Google camped out on the sidewalk in San Francisco to ensure their spots in the main room for Steve Jobs’s keynote at MacWorld 2007.

What follows is a transcript of the night’s events, with photographic evidence.

December 7, 2006 (3:30 PM) – At a monthly meeting of Associate Product Managers and former Associate Product Managers (now Product Managers) a debate rages about whether anyone in their right mind would actually camp out for MacWorld. Jeff Bartelma, a PM on Google Book Search, has already committed to spending the night. Clay Bavor, PM on Google Base, and Avichal Garg, PM on Ads Quality, follow suit. Nick Baum (PM on Google Reader), Clay Bavor, Diana Ly (PM for the Associates program), and Avichal Garg become unofficial organizers of the camp out event.

Early January – Rose Yao, PM on Google’s Mac Initiatives, convinces her engineering team to join in the camp out.

Google Mac Team

(The Google Mac Products Team)

January 8, 2007 (3:00 PM) – The day of the campout! Rose Yao IMs Avichal Garg asking if we should bring tents and asks if we need a permit to sleep out on the sidewalk. Avichal Garg responds, “huh? permit?” and claims ignorance when it is suggested he should be organizing this camp out event.

January 8, 2007 (5:00 PM) – Avichal Garg goes home to pack a night’s worth of belongings. Realizing he has no need for anything beyond his laptop, he takes a nap.

January 8, 2007 (6:30 PM) – Frances Haughen, PM on AdWords, Avichal, and Aneto Okonkwo, PM on Google’s logging infrastructure, discuss how arriving in San Francisco by 8PM is a must to pick up badges that night; otherwise they may lose their spots in line the next morning.

January 8, 2007 (7:00 PM) – Frances describes how clutches can fail in manual transmission cars and the symptoms of such a failure. She mentions her car has been exhibiting some of these symptoms for several weeks and that she is planning to take it in for a checkup tomorrow.

January 8, 2007 (7:30 PM) – The clutch goes out.

January 8, 2007 (7:40 PM) – Aneto and Frances debate whether or not it is in fact the clutch or if France’s car ran out of gas. Aneto explains the detailed workings of an internal combustion engine while Frances provides irrefutable emperical evidence that her car still has gas by turning it on. The car does turn on but does not move forward. Avichal ignores them both and thanks God he brought his Edge card so he can have Internet access on his laptop.

January 8, 2007 (7:43 PM) – Dan Siroker, a PM on AdWords, drives past a stranded car on Highway 101 and wonders if they might need help. He considers pulling over to help them, but recently having seen “Signs” by M. Night Shyamalan is afraid. Instead, he curses at them for slowing down traffic and potentially preventing him from getting to San Francisco by 8PM.

January 8, 2007 (7:45 PM) – Frances calls AAA and they “will send someone immediately” because she is on an extremely dangerous shoulder on 101. At approximately the same time, Clay calls Avichal asking where he is. Avichal says, “On 101, just hanging out.” Clay laughes but doesn’t get the joke until Avichal explains.

January 8, 2007 (7:51 PM) – Clay devises a plan to get Frances, Aneto, and Avichal their entry passes for MacWorld before registration closes at 8PM. He will have other Googlers impersonate them: Clay will be “Avi-hkhaahl” – a Hebrew interpretation of his Hindi name, Ben Lewis will be Aneto, and Rose will be Frances. Avichal is skeptical that 2 White men and an Asian woman will pass for a Nigerian (Aneto), an Indian (Avichal), and a 6′ tall Sweedish woman (Frances), but trusts Clay and co. will be successful. It turns out that MacWorld registration involves neither security nor ID checking, as badges for all 3 stranded PMs are secured easily.

January 8, 2007 (8:00 PM) – A California State Highway Police Officer shows up and sees if we need help. Frances turns on the car and it lurches forward 20 feet before dying again. The CHP is kind enough to stay with them until a tow truck arrives.

January 8, 2007 (8:10 PM) – The group of PMs and Engineers who now have their badges debate whether or not to start camping out and be first in line for the keynote. They decide that no one will really start camping out that early and instead opt to get food and drinks at a nearby pub.

January 8, 2007 (9:40 PM) – All PMs and Engineers meet up at Moscone Center West to start the campout to find that 3 crazy Apple fans are now first in line. They are simultaneously annoyed, amused, and grateful they won’t have to deal with bloggers interviewing them all night and asking why they are motivated enough to be first in line. Enrique Munoz Torres, a PM on Book Search, drives up on a motorcycle shortly thereafter, does not say a word, drops off a case of beer, and rides away.

Our Campsite

(The Google Campsite Outside MacWorld)

January 8, 2007 (10:00 PM) – 2 really attractive women walk by the campsite and ask what is going on. Nick and Avichal claim they thought this line was for Justin Timberlake tickets. The women laugh and walk away; Nick and Avichal debate whether the women were laughing with them or at them.

January 8, 2007 (11:00 PM) – The world’s most hardcore Apple fan comes by for a photo-op. No, seriously. Notice his tatoo. He had an LED belt that flashed “Thank you Steve!”

Uber Apple Fan

(The World’s Most Hardcore Apple Fanatic)

January 9, 2007 (midnight – 2AM) – Numerous “reporters” and amateur film makers stop by to interview the people first in line. The first-in-liners bask in their new found fame while the second-in-liners enjoy some beer.

January 9, 2007 (2:30 AM) – Shirin Oskooi, PM on Google Calendar, and Avichal go to Denny’s so Avichal can charge his laptop. Shirin is convinced that Azekial, a homeless man she and Avichal once hung out with in San Francisco, is eating at this very Denny’s.

January 9, 2007 (2:30 AM – 5:30AM) – Almost everyone sleeps. Nick and Avichal continue their debate about whether the women were laughing at them or with them.

Mac Team Sleeping

(Googlers Sleep in a Giant Clown Car-esque Tent)

January 9, 2007 (5:30 AM) – TV reporters start to wake up the campers with their annoyingly bright lights and “Live Local News at 5:30 before anyone in their right mind should be up!” interviews of the first-in-liners.

Outside MacWorld (in the morning)

(Campers Are to the Far Left)

January 9, 2007 (6:00 AM) – The campers commemorate the occassion with a group picture.

Group Photo

January 9 (8:00 AM) – All attendees are herded like animals into a giant holding pen. The campers are convinced that their commitment will result in a great seat in the main room. They are disappointed to learn that anyone with a premium pass (all 1000+ of them) will be seated before them and thus they will not have a good seat afterall. In fact, the room this year is much larger and likely there will not be an overflow room at all.

Inside the waiting room for MacWorld

(The Holding Pen)

January 9 (8:30 AM) – In a sleepy haze, Avichal finds the conference organizers and suggests they use a quality based model analogous to the Google advertising auction that takes into account not only the amount paid per seat but the amount of time invested as a proxy for user loyalty. He claims such a system would result in a more fair distribution of attendees in the main room and would generate both short term revenue while generating long term loyalty in the Apple user base, and compelling more users to camp out for even longer, thereby generating even more buzz and press around MacWorld.

January 9 (8:45 AM) – MacWorld organizers tell Avichal to get back in line before they throw him out. He gets them to agree to consider his ideas for next year’s MacWorld.

January 9 (9:00 AM) – Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone, one of the best designed products of the last decade. He is in his element. As one executive at Google put it, “Being invited to go on stage with Steve is like the kiss of death.” All you can hope is that you walk on, get off the stage as quickly as possible, and pray no one remembers you were there. If people remember you were there you know you royally screwed up.

January 9 (Noon) – PMs and Engineers return to Google in Mountain View for meetings and work, exhausted but satisfied they saw Steve in person this year.