Social Networking

Can Google Fix Google TV This Time Round?

Today, I heard that Google is most likely working on a new version of their Google TV product.  This evokes mixed feeling in me.  First and foremost, I’m glad that Google is sticking to its guns and working to improve the product.  Internet Television has great potential to turn a static one-way broadcast model into a rich interactive and social experience.  But the 1st Google TV was a piece of crap and should not have been released. The first release was so far off the mark that I worry Google doesn’t really understand what people are looking for when they sit down to watch TV. At best, it was a technology preview with very few compelling end-user experiences. Apple TV, on the other hand, is much closer to getting it right, even though it’s currently crippled by being limited to one-way media streaming.

So let’s look at what Google needs to do to have a chance with this next release.  Google needs to start with the basics and realize that when we sit down on the couch to watch TV, we don’t want to use a browser and google for stuff.  We’ve just come back from work were we did that all day long.  I have this image of a google engineer coming back from the Googleplex and sitting down and thinking about how fun and informative it would be if the TV had a search bar. Unfortunately for Google, that experience, while not invalid, is not typical for the average TV viewer.  Most of us have a very different goal when we sit down with the TV.  Usually its after a hard or busy day and we want to be entertained. That’s a bit of a simplistic definition but clarifies things for this discussion.  Hint to Google, think about how we use our mobile phones.  Just look at the top app downloads and a lot of it is about entertainment and social. The 1st Google TV was clearly a product designed by a bunch of computer engineers (that’s my background as well so no slight intended), who were brilliant but could have used some input from usability experts.

When you are trying to create a new product category, like internet TVs, there are a couple of critical things that have to happen to give the product a chance.  First, the benefit has to be clear.  Second, the benefit needs to be simple and tangible.  The reason that Apple was able to have such a success with the iPad while all those before them failed, was that they understood these requirements.  I’ve had and used a number of tablets before the iPad and hated them all. So what specifically does Google need to do in this next version to get the average person to consider or better yet, dream of buying a Google TV?

  1. Have a very simple user interface. When we sit down to relax and turn on the TV, no one wants to invest in learning a complicated system.  In fact, it needs to be simple enough where I could hand the remote to my mother and she could use the core functions.  And let’s talk about the remote.  Its design is really important.  Every Google TV I’ve seen had a big clunky keyboard.  Who wants that on their couch or coffee table?  The Sony version of Google TV had pretty much the worst remote every made by mankind.  It was that bad.  There is no doubt that’s it’s a difficult design task to add a ton of functionality and figure out how to have a simple interface.  Experience has shown that in cases like this, it’s better to error on the side of simplicity rather than complexity.  Apple TV’s remote is much better than Google’s even though it can’t do much because people can figure out how to use it. What Google TV needs is a simple touch screen handheld like an iPod Touch.  Or for those with a smartphone, let them use that.  Google, please do not even consider shipping the new version of Google TV if it’s going to come with a full size keyboard.
  2. Google TV must have TV shows and movies on demand built-in and front and centre.  If it came with Netflix support rather than your own streaming solution, that would be a big plus as many people already have a membership.  While this feature is core and needs to be perfect, I don’t believe it’s enough to make Google TV a success.  Adding Netflix to your TV through an add-on is pretty easy and doesn’t require something as expensive as Google TV.
  3. Here is where we get to the good stuff.  Google TV needs at least one killer app.  At this stage, no one care or needs 100K apps.  What we need is a few clear killer apps that show people how Google TV can rock our world… or at least how it’s is better than a plain TV.  People need to see something that makes perfect sense to them and helps them wrap their head around the potential.   You know, like Halo was for the 1st Xbox.  What we do know for sure is that the killer app is not a browser with a search bar.  It may be hard for Google to hear or accept this but it’s the truth.  People generally don’t want to search or browse while watching TV.  TV is supposed to be immersive and a search bar would just get in the way.  Instead, Google needs to think about what it means to watch TV from a users’s point of view.  And then think about how an internet or app-enabled TV could enhance that experience.   Lets look at the top shows and what might be possible:
    • News.  Now that I have an iPad, TV news does not work for me anymore.  First of all, my life is not structured enough to be in front of the TV at the right time.  Google should have key TV news available on demand.  Also, I love that on an iPad, I can pick and choose the stories to focus on.  The result is that I’m able to drill down on the news I care about and skip the stuff I don’t have any interest in.  Google TV needs to bring these elements to television.  With a touch-screen remote, it should be easy for a user to navigate through stories.  For news junkies, this might be enough to consider a google TV.
    • Game Shows.  How many of us watch a game show and play along.  Well, with an Internet TV, it would be possible to actually do that.  As the game is played on the TV, you should be able to enter your answers on the touch-screen remote and have the TV show you your score.  TV is inherently a social thing and rather than the whole family passively watching, with Google TV, it would be like the old days of board games where we all play along and against each other.  For families that watch TV together, this probably would be the killer feature.
    • Talent Shows.  There seem to be a ton of talent shows on right now where the viewers are asked to vote.  It started with American Idol but now there is Dancing with the Star and many more. Each of these ask viewer to vote using SMS.  In this age of real-time, it would be much more satisfying and interactive if viewers could vote during the show.  And since we’re not limited to clunky SMS, lets have some fun with it.  Let viewers vote on all sorts of things: personality, skill, best costume, etc.  And I can think about all sorts of infographics that could be shown about how viewers voted.  Was the singer popular everywhere or was it just young girls or was their fan base mainly in one part of the country.
  4. Add an app store.  I really struggled with whether to add this or not.  I really don’t think that Google TV needs an app store to succeed at this point.  I’m sure this is a contentious point that not everyone will agree with but Apple TV has sold over a million devices without an app store.  That’s way more than Google has sold.  I guessing that Apple decided it was better to ease people into an internet-enabled TV rather than throw too much at users and have their eye glaze over. That and they belief that consumers won’t pay more than $100 for such a device. Given that the iPad is $500, it really shows that they have not figured out what the killer app is yet (which surprises me).  Anyways, its been almost a year since Apple TV was launched and I’m guessing that the next version of Apple TV will finally get an App Store so Google, for competitive reasons, you need to add an app store. In the end, what an app store adds is games.  And that’s something people will want and enjoy.  Now what would really be cool is if the games could multi-player.  If the family is sitting down together, a one player game is not a great experience.

And that’s it.  At this point there is enough for people to wrap their heads around and get what Internet TV is all about.  Don’t add anything else for this release.  All those other great ideas you have should be saved for another release.  Don’t create a propeller head product that only a genius could use.

I for one believe that an Internet enabled TV will be a valuable addition to the home.  I was a Tivo user ages ago and my family loves the Windows Media Center we have today.  But neither product went beyond simple TV functions like on-screen TV guide or programmed recording of shows.  There is so much more than an Internet enabled TV can do for us.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Google has been working hard to improve the usability in a meaningful way.  If they don’t, I fully expect that it wont be long before Apple has the time to get serious about Apple TV and let it spread its wings.  I mean now that the iPad has shipped, they must have some extra time to work on this, shouldn’t they?

Google, the opportunity is yours to show us a compelling reason to want an Internet-enabled TV. Please don’t blow it!

Social Networking

Malleable social graphs and the need for a better a reputation system

I’ve been following the foursquare and gowalla hoopla for almost a year and to be quite frank, it made no sense to me. Why wound I want to ‘checkin’ when I’m at a coffee shop? Just to get points, win a badge and maybe be the ‘mayor’. Don’t get that. Scobles blog post today hit the head on the name with what is missing and has some useful suggestions on how to make this class of app useful. The idea is that your social graph should adjust based on what you are doing. And for this to happen, we need a more sophisticated reputation system.

First of all, I do believe location based services are going to be big. And foursquare and gowalla have gotten some things very right. Specifically, the idea of a checkin process is right on the money. No one wants to have their entire movements recoded and available on the internet (Google Lattitude, I’m looking at you). The user should decide when they want to advertise that they are in a location. What I think both of these services have not gotten right is the motivation for checkin in. People are going to do that because there is a benefit to them. Maybe they’ll get some good advice or tips about the place. In a restaurant, I want to know what’s really good on the menu. And what’s bad. If it’s a store, are there coupons I can use. Now to be fair, one of the problems with being the 1st app o the block, is that without a big user-base most of this doesn’t work. Hence why foursquare and gowalla use gaming techniques to get people to checkin more. I’ve heard businessmen talk about wanting to be the ‘mayor’ of a location on foursquare. Really! To be sure, gaming has allowed foursquare and gowalla to build that initial base. But gaming is not the end goal.

The issue I have is that a badge can’t be the real reward for checking in. These apps needs to give me a real return on my investment. And here is where Scoble’s post really makes sense. He talks about the malleable social graph. What he means by that is that your social graph adjusts based on what you are doing. He gave the example of going to Napa Valley winerys. If you are looking for advice on that topic, your social graph should be adjusted to only include people that have some knowledge of that topic. Maybe they live close by, maybe they are big wine buffs, etc. The point is, you are on a quest (to enjoy fine wine) and you want you social graph to aid in that goal. Right now most social graphs don’t have the ability to make those kind of adjustments.

One thing that Scoble didn’t talk about was the need for a much deeper reputation system on our social graphs. If I’m interested in wine (because I’m in Napa Valley), my social graph needs to know who knows about wine. If I’m struggling with a home repair, my social graph should know who is good at that kind of thing. One thing that foursqare and gowalla could easily do is make their badges meaningful. Have a badge for being a wine lover, another for being good a house repairs. While they are called badges, what they really are is the beginning of a deep reputation system. When I meet someone at a party, you spend the first few minutes getting to know each other. You are basically learning about their background, interests and skills. Wouldn’t it be great if you could immediately see a list of their interests and find out what you have in common. I’m sure I’ve met lots of people that I could have made great connections with if only I was able to find the common links. I remember telling someone I had just met how much I was enjoying watching the winter Olympics. Her response was that she didn’t like sports at all. If I had known a bit more about her, I could have talked about something that both of us would have found interesting.

Hats off to foursquare and gowalla for getting the ball rolling. They are making real inroads into location services. Buts we’re only in the early stages. As far as the technology goes, we have not crossed the chasm yet. Scoble’s thoughts provide some really good suggestions on where we should go next. I believe a deeper reputation system needs to be part of the solution. And the elephant in the room, Facebook, has yet to show its cards (I’ll be going to F8 next month to see if they have anything interesting to announce). Either way, with all the attention this area is getting, I’m sure that it won’t be too long before I start ‘checking in’ to places I visit.

Social Networking, Software Development

LinkedIn API vs Facebook API

Today I was investigating the LinkedIn API. Most developers who want to create a social app have tended to use the Facebook API but I was looking at an idea that was business focused so LinkedIn would be a better fit. While the API is fairly full featured, there are some big differences compared to what Facebook offers. Most of those differences focus on how you discovery the app and how you use it.

On Facebook, apps are tightly integrated into the Facebook UI. Apps appear right in Facebook pages, you can discover new apps in the global directory and apps can add make updates to the news stream. All these means that if you have a good app, you can get away with a fraction of the marketing that you normally have to do. This opportunity has driven a lot of developers to create a Facebook app. Today there are over 500K apps that have being created (500K by Facebook’s own stats).

With LinkedIn, your app does not live inside the LinkedIn site. In fact, the LinkedIn API is more like Facebook Connect, which is geared for companies that already have their own website. It allows your site to not require users to have to create a new account on your site and allows you to access the user’s Facebook data. But as mentioned, all this happens on your own site. It is up to you to find ways to drive new traffic to your app. While there is an app directory on LinkedIn, it only has 13 apps on it. In terms of the actual API, it’s fairly robust. You are able to get at all of a user’s profile information. Also, you can get their connections and do updates to a user’s status.

So as long as you already have an installed base or feel comfortable building your vistor/customer base in the traditional way, the LinkedIn API does allow you to add social type features.

Social Networking

While Facebook now accepts Paypal, most apps can't benefit from it (updated)

What Amazon’s one-click checkout and Apple’s iTunes store have proven is that by removing the friction from the payment process, sales will dramatically increase. In fact, in the case of iTunes, it was the magical key to getting people to pay for music and for mobile apps.  So it was significant yesterday when Facebook announced that they would start to accepting Paypal, especially since they’ve indicated that 70% of their users are outside of the US. But what is a bigger story is that very few Facebook apps are yet able to use their credit system.  The system is still officially in beta and only a short-list of apps are included.

So while its great to see Facebook continuing to improve their payment system, what the larger Facebook development community needs is to have Facebook hurry up and finish the long drawn out beta that they have had for Facebook credits.  All is not gloomy though.  In 2010, social gaming is estimated to be a $1.3B business and in Asia it’s already a $7B business ( But transacting payments with users is easier for the big companies like Zynga.  The bigest beneficiary of Facebook opening up their payment system, will be all the smaller developers, of which there are many.

Still, hats off to Facebook for now working with Paypal. I’m holding my breath that they are hard at work at finishing up the beta for their credits system so that all their application partners can benefit.

UPDATED: Looks like Facebook is suggesting Credits might come out of beta fairly soon.