On Friday I was guest on the Gillmor Gang chewing on the week’s Google I/O announcements with regulars Steve Gillmor, Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks and Andrew Keen. The first half is about Google TV, then we talk about everything else, including Google’s social strategy (Wave, Buzz, etc). Soundbites:

  • Google wants to put a Search box on top of your TV, Facebook wants a Like button. Which would you rather use?
  • Google Wave should’ve been marketed as reinventing the wiki rather than reinventing email
  • Google and the Big Banana – advertising is changing to become social graph-based. How much of that will Google own in 5yrs?

See also the comments posted on Friendfeed during the live broadcast.

At age 15 I moved to Helsinki to study at a gymnasium specializing in fine art. My family remained in California, and relatives lived outside the city except for grandfather Georg, a recently widowed painter.

He lived in a cobwebbed apartment on the top floor of a Jugend fortress built during the Russian era. The building looked confidently over the officers’ casino on the frozen bay as if it was expecting the imperial schooner to dock shortly at its feet, and Alexander the Blessed to hop ashore and claim back his old Grand Dutchy. He had an excellent library, which could only be accessed using a ladder so as to not disturb the dust (which, if it got in the air, could have been deadly to the asthmatic inhabitant).

Grandpa Georg tutored me in languages and the history and philosophy of art. I studied Swedish conjugations late into the night with the help of strong black Caravan tea in his studio, and accompanied him on morning excursions where he taught me his methods of ”people-snapping” (quick sketches on café napkins with a felt tip pen) and painting aquarelle landscapes in any weather. Although he and I inhabited different centuries (the sight of him in public without a decent black tie would have been scandalous), we were both rather lonely, and I began to genuinely value the company of the gruff old aristocrat.

More than anything he was intellectually preoccupied with the notion of beauty. He held beauty to be a value on its own, saw it originating in nature, and considered its reverence a precondition to ethical human discourse and politics. The task of the artist was to be the intermediary who raised in his audience an awareness of beauty where none was apparent – within unremarkable landscapes and unappreciated members of society – and thus a sensibility for the subjects’ worthiness. Although he disliked Heidegger, he was closely aligned with phenomenology in emphasizing intentionality (consciousness being always about some external object) and, through the craft of painting, the portrayal of the world as it presented itself to the eye, as free of presuppositions and intellectualizing as possible.

Speaking about his teacher, the early 20th-century Russian painter Valery Semenoff-Tianchansky, he says:

”When I think about Valery Semenoff-Tianchansky, and what he, an old man, meant when he exclaimed: ”Look! Just look at that field!” It may have been wheat growing, or perhaps rye – it was the color of bronze, and quite spectacular. He said: ”There is nothing more beautiful in existence.” His friend Picasso — he said Picasso could not have painted that. And indeed Picasso couldn’t. Because no man is capable of painting it. We can only adore it, and try to teach others to revere it too. ”

The full 8 1/2-minute interview is below.

Painter Georg Engeström a.k.a. GEM (1921-2008) reflects on his life’s work and the role of the artist as an intermediary between man and nature. This interview was recorded at his summer home in Finland shortly before the opening of his 85th anniversary exhibition. Although GEM applied a range of methods (he studied the fresco in Italy and spent five decades as a political cartoonist), and painted thousands of portraits during his 70-year career, he is still mainly known as a landscape painter. His work was influenced by Goya, Turner, and – more than any other – the Russian master Ilya Repin (he was born in Repin’s home village). He passed away in 2008.

The Great Gatsby (1925) is ageless because in it F. Scott Fitzgerald captures the dynamic between two kinds of people — those who already have everything, epitomized in a propitious couple, Tom and Daisy Buchanan:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

… And those whose “sole misfortune,” in the words of Tracy Chapman, “was having mountains of nothing at birth” – personified in the novel’s namesake James Gatz a.k.a. Jay Gatsby:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

Despite all the zeal, Gatsby’s impetus to get ahead in life and pursue his dream is a paddle race against the tide of time. It is an effort to relive his one long-gone moment of genuine happiness. Predictably, he never gets to live that dream.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Whether you’re Tom, Daisy, or Gatsby, salute the past that colors your future.

Saul Griffith has a great talk out on the necessity for us to reduce energy consumption if we are to slow down climate change. I summarized it at an event in Helsinki, my slides are below. Dowload the full Game Plan and measure your own energy consumption on Wattzon.

(Also, this week’s Economist has an informative article on the uncertainty of the science of climate change, which gives additional context to some of the assumptions above.)

In The Shaking of the Foundations Paul Tillich, one of last century’s defining theologicians, quotes the apostle Paul: “For I do not do the good I desire, but rather the evil that I do not desire.”

Paul violently persecuted followers of Jesus prior to his conversion to Christianity. You may not have persecuted anyone, but can you honestly claim your actions have never had unhappy consequences to other people? Tillich’s following lines, written (if I’m not mistaken) in the aftermath of the Second World War, are so riveting that I’ll quote them here at length, with a bit of editing to improve online readability:

“Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”, says Paul in the same letter in which he describes the unimaginable power of separation and self-destruction within society and the individual soul. He does not say these words because sentimental interests demand a happy ending for everything tragic. He says them because they describe the most overwhelming and determining experience of his life. Read more »

Photo credit: ElDave (Flickr)

My little Google Buzz voting experiment broke 20,000 votes this weekend (story on ReadWriteWeb). As of now 1,390 people have submitted 487 ideas and cast 21,218 votes (some ideas are duplicates, sadly there is no way to merge them). Thanks to everyone who has participated!

Below is a short summary of the feedback. It’s not meant to be objective and you should feel free to create your own breakdown (anybody out there specializing in survey analysis?) I tried to take into account the most actively voted topics while also including less popular fixes that I consider important.

I. Clean the stream

  1. Hide comments by default (use notifications & hints—see Jaiku/Friendfeed)
  2. Don’t re-order the stream when new comments are added to posts
  3. Allow clicking posts to expand/collapse threads inline
  4. Remove dupes
  5. Allow unsubscribing from specific sources

II. Stop ruining my Inbox

  1. Don’t put notifications about new comments in my Inbox unless the comment is directly addressed to me or in a thread that I explicitly subscribed to
  2. Make Mute a clearly visible button
  3. Better filtering: e.g. allow sorting search results by # of likes & comments
  4. Don’t show the same faces more than once in New Followers
  5. Stop showing unread count in sidebar (this is not email)

III. Better public conversation

  1. Block trolls straight from comments
  2. Add autosuggest popup to @-replies in non-Gmail UIs (mobile & Profile)
  3. Include previous commenters in the @-reply suggestions
  4. Enable Re-buzzing
  5. Make it possible to like & link to comments

IV. Leverage Gmail & Mobile features that rock

  1. Add starring of posts and comments
  2. Add Nearby tab to desktop (currently mobile only)
  3. Allow location tagging of desktop posts (currently mobile only)
I’ve excluded the API-related feedback (including third party feeds) from this summary since I wanted to focus on improvements to the current feature set and the API hasn’t been launched yet. The API will have a huge impact on the Buzz ecosystem because it’ll allow content to flow in and out of Buzz and third parties to build alternative UIs. Developers should join the Buzz API discussion group.

Let’s face it: less than a week into the game, the shortcomings of Google Buzz are crippling its use. Even proponents are critical of the platform. As Robert Scoble put it, “They made some horrid mistakes.”

Nonetheless people (even Robert!) want it to succeed. Massively. The web is overflowing with calls to fix Buzz.

Google must react at lightning speed. But what can busy engineers do to draw signal from the jumble of rants and raves scattered across the web?

The Gmail help center is a dead end. The Suggest a Feature page contains nothing Buzz-related. The list of Known Issues has two entries.

As a quick solution, I set up an unofficial How to Fix Google Buzz series on Google Moderator. Anyone can participate by adding ideas and voting them up or down. I seeded it with Scoble’s “12 worst features Buzz copied from Friendfeed.”

It has now been live 24 hours, so let’s see if the experiment worked.

  • How many ideas have been submitted? 209.
  • How many votes have been cast? 7,016.

Not bad considering it took about 5 minutes to set up.

Here are the top 10 requests:

  1. “Provide a way to hide all comments until I want to see comments” (205 votes)
  2. “Filter by content type. (i.e. don’t show me twitter from anyone, or for a specific user)” (174 votes)
  3. “If I read comments in Buzz mark them as read in Google reader and vice-versa” (162 votes)
  4. “Provide a way to group friends into lists. Lack of this makes using Buzz with more than small groups very frustrating” (143 votes)
  5. “Let me see all the likes by a single person. Over on FriendFeed I can see what Mike Arrington has liked, or commented on. I can’t do that in Google Buzz” (128 votes)
  6. “Add comment moderation. It should be possible to block people right from comments (like on FriendFeed)” (111 votes)
  7. “I’d love to see Gmail filters applied to Buzz. Keep most of the keyword based filters that are available on Gmail filters but add new ones like Number of Comments, Number of Likes, etc. Actions should include Mute for hiding noisy threads” (99 votes)
  8. “A collapsed list view like what’s available in Google Reader” (97 votes)
  9. “Duplicate posts filter / grouping. So I don’t have to scroll past / see all those duplicate Reader shares. e.g. Of Mashable stuff” (92 votes)
  10. “Introduce lists (like in Twitter) to Buzz” (92 votes)

Note that #10 duplicates #4. Too bad Google Moderator doesn’t have a way to merge entries (feature request!)

Feel free to add in your votes and ideas.

Texas-based maverick of an author Hugh McLeod is on the ball when it comes to social objects. He has a witty post up today (update: actually, it dates from 2007 – see comments) on gapingvoid.com called “Social objects for beginners.” Through seven short examples, he shows how social objects bring people together by giving them a reason to talk to each other.

It’s an entertaining read. Around anecdote F I was already chuckling so loudly my one year old clomped in looking worried, apparently to check if dad had lost it for good.

I won’t spoil it by quoting snippets here, so go read the full post on gapingvoid.

Hugh also draws cartoons. The one on the right is for Stormhoek, the South African wine he markets in the U.S.

“Game over… Facebook is the new MySpace” (Jason Calacanis)

“This is already WAY BETTER than FriendFeed” (Scoble)

“Buzz exists because Google feels threatened by Twitter and Facebook and wants to kill them.” (Newsweek tech blog)

Most of the conversation over the last 24h has been centered around predicting if “Buzz will kill” this or that service. The unspoken assumption that lies behind this debate is that Buzz and the rest of the social web are mutually exclusive.

It’s arguably fair to assume that the leading companies are locked in a zero-sum, winner-takes-all game where the prize is total domination of the social web, considering all the social networks we’ve got so far are silos. To no longer assume everyone has to be using the same branded system to talk to each other is disruptive to the tech biz discourse, which is obsessed with turning everything into a war over which company is “the one”. So much so that the alternative is almost unthinkable.

If the new standards succeed, in 2015 we’ll look back on these debates and shake our heads like we shake our heads today at the early days of warring proprietary phone networks and email systems. The thought that you couldn’t call, text or email people (or companies, or public services) just because you happened to sign up with the wrong phone company or email provider is so blatantly a bad idea it’s absurd. Doubly so for the social Web where everything is already built on the same underlying protocol.

The reason many of the current commentators miss this point is that they are, in the immortal words of Walt Whitman, “demented with the mania of owning things.” (borrowing that quote from Doc Searls).

Let’s see through this entertaining controversy and not lose sight of the real enemy. This enemy is autocracy – the unlimited power of one leader over masses of people – and it feeds on fragmentation. There is a vision worth pursuing that’s bigger than Twitter, Facebook, Google, or any company. It’s the vision of a true global conversation. One of a world where I can tune in to a squabble between tribesmen in Congo and you can @-reply to a joke by a Chinese taikonaut. It doesn’t matter that they’re registered on services we’ve never heard of, speaking in languages neither of us can understand. We can still discover them, follow them, and have a conversation. Because they, like we, are on the same social web.