Yesterday afternoon, I noticed a couple of direct messages through the Hangouts app on my Samsung Galaxy S III. I’ve been running Cyanogen Mod 11 for a while and absolutely love the pure Android experience, despite the few programming bugs. It’s amazing that software enables you to get so much out of hardware that already seems antiquated.
The messages were from two good friends of mine, Matthew Rappaport and Robert Anderson. They were both asking me if I was going to see Vic that night. I had no idea what they were talking about. Curious, I went to my computer and noticed that I had been mentioned at least a dozen times in various posts about Vic Gundotra‘s upcoming visit to Dallas. Immediately, I informed my fiance that we would have to adjust our plans for the evening.
My agenda for that day was nothing short of Herculean. In 8 hours time I would receive all of my goods that had been moved from Nashville, register my car, have my apartment re-keyed, have the car taken to the dealership to have the front plate mounted (I was missing the appropriate bracket), obtain a driver’s license and make it downtown by 5 o’clock for a meeting with someone who I very much admire.
How I was able to make it to this discussion about Google+ was almost as exciting as the discussion itself. In fact, most of the things that got me there are things that we take for granted.
First of all, without Google Hangouts, I probably wouldn’t have been made aware in sufficient time that I had the opportunity to meet with Vic and a wonderful group Google+ evangelists in the area. Then again, if it weren’t for the two separate public video Hangout calls that led me to meet Matthew Rappaport and Robert Anderson, I wouldn’t have received those messages to begin with.
Getting back to my agenda for the day, I’m new to the area, so where I would need to go to accomplish the day’s tasks was all new to me. Luckily, through the help of Google, I was able to find the appropriate websites for the Tarrant County Tax Assessor, the Nissan of Texas Grapevine dealership and a list of Department of Motor Vehicle locations in my area. Using Google Maps, I was able to get a rough idea of where I would be going and what timing would be necessary to successfully orchestrate everything. Brittani and I are both professional meeting planners, so we’re pretty savvy at scheduling a “full day.”
Once I left the house, I relied on navigation from Google Maps. Apart from the mess of construction on the connector, Google was able to get me everywhere I needed to go in time to make it back to the house for the apartment to be re-keyed. I knew it was the apartment complex calling me because I had them stored in my GMail contacts.
Like clockwork, the truck with all of my belongings appeared in the driveway. After unloading everything, I used the Google Drive app on my phone to quickly scan the paperwork from the driver. As I was unpacking boxes, I used the camera on my Android phone to upload pictures of damaged boxes to Google+ Photos so I could later send them to the moving company for compensation in the case that any of the contents were damaged. (Luckily, no problems so far.)
Brittani arrived while I was unpacking and we quickly changed and got ready to leave. As we were getting ready, I used Google Maps on my phone to estimate the travel time to the DMV and then to the Magnolia hotel downtown where I would meet Vic. Brittani was very concerned that we didn’t have all the paperwork needed to obtain our licenses (and rightly so). It turns out that you need am armful of documents to get a driver’s license in the state of Texas.
Once we made it to the DMV, I assured Brittani that we had plenty of time to get through the process and that we would make it downtown with time to spare. (Was I fooling myself? Did we really have time to get both of our driver’s licenses and make it downtown in under two hours?)
Almost immediately after we were done filling out our paperwork, our numbers were called, 395 and 396. We each enthusiastically proceeded to our assigned desks to begin the process. As I handed the stack of paperwork to the clerk, she started sorting through everything and nodded with approval as she moved each document to the side. “Wait, this one is expired,” she said.
I panicked. What could it be? It turns out, of the registration papers that I keep in my car, I had handed her the old Proof of Insurance and not the new one. With a sigh of relief, I handed her the updated form that I had in the envelope of other papers. “Okay, it looks like we have everything but your social security card,” she said.
“I need my social security card and my birth certificate?” Surely my birth certificate along with my old driver’s license from Tennessee would be ample proof that I was who I claimed to be. Clearly not the case in the state of Texas.
“You’ll need to either provide your social security card or your most recent W2 in order to get your license,” she clarified.
My stomach sank. I didn’t have my social security card with me and my fiance would be devastated if I didn’t get my license taken care of that day. Immediately, a light bulb turned on in my head. My W2, it’s on Google Drive, I could e-mail it to her!
“No, it couldn’t be that simple,” I told myself. “Would I be able to e-mail it to you?” I asked.
“You may, but I’m not going to wait a half an hour.” Faster than a speeding bullet, I whipped my Android out of my pocket, tapped on the Google folder, the Drive logo and then the search window. Right as I keyed in W and the number 2, my most recent W2 appeared. I quickly opened it to ensure it was what I was looking for. I tapped my phone twice to share the document through GMail as the clerk slipped a piece of paper across the counter with her e-mail address. Confirming each letter aloud as I typed it into my phone, I tapped the send arrow and held my phone in the air as I clung on to the one bar of 3G service I had with every hope. For two seconds there was silence. I panicked. Did I not have enough signal? Was the attachment too large? Would I have to come back another day?”
“Got it!” She proclaimed as the laser printer started to roar.
Triumph! Google Drive had saved the day.
After we both received our temporary licenses, we got into the car and proceeded to the Magnolia hotel in downtown Dallas. Neither of us had been there before, so we relied once again on the navigation of Google Maps. Within 30 minutes, just as Google had predicted, Brittani and I arrived at the hotel and valeted my car.
As I was getting out of the car I donned my sport coat and Google Glass and proceeded to the second floor where we quickly spotted the bar. Brittani suggested I try one of the local brews, Fireman’s #4 from the Real Ale Brewing Company. As the bartender exchanged my credit card for the beer, I noticed a couple of lanky fellows sitting in a dark corner on the other side of the railing wearing Google Glass. I handed Brittani her glass of Pinot Noir (Meiomi if you must know) and we proceeded to the table in the dimly lit corner.
Around the table were eight or so chairs. Sitting in the back corner was a female wearing Google Glass Cotton (the white model) and a man in his 40’s wearing a business suit. Around the table were a few more casually dressed people. We all shook hands and made introductions. With our mutual excitement for meeting Vic, I doubt many of us remember each others’ names. The introductions almost seemed as though they were an obligation or formality.
During the time leading up to Vic’s entrance, my phone had been vibrating constantly. People that knew I was in Dallas wanted me to ask questions on their behalf and “dial them in” to the conversation. One of the updates I noticed was from Vic, on his previous night’s post, indicating that he was heading up the stairs.
As Vic walked towards the corner, everyone immediately stood up from the table, very eager to greet him. Vic made his way around the group (probably about 12-15 at this point) and shook hands with everyone there. I introduced myself simply as Peter to see if he would recognize me. He responded by saying “Nice Glasses!” I then introduced him to my fiance before we both sat down.
In meeting Vic in person, I noticed several things. He is extremely polished, well-mannered, sincere and doesn’t look like he carries an ounce of stress with him. How is it possible for someone to carry such an important position to seem so cool, calm and relaxed, I wondered.
After a few more handshakes, Vic found an empty seat at the table, four seats down and almost directly across from me. He started off by thanking everyone in the group for coming to spend time with him and thanked us all for our adoption and continued use of the Google+ platform. He seemed genuine in every word he said. Without delay, he explained that his reason to meet with us was to learn as much as he could and offer answers to any question we might have.
Vic opened the discussion to questions. The first to ask were the well dressed man and woman sitting to his right. They introduced themselves as a newscaster and meteorologist for the local CBS radio and television affiliates. They were asking how Google was going to help newscasters and the press with the use of the platform now that they have begun to adopt it.
A few local technology professionals asked questions about API-integration, multiple-page management and the absence of true analytics for the social platform.
There was a high school student that stated that he felt like he was the only one of his peers that felt like he used the network and wondered when Google would make the push to encourage his friends to adopt the use of Google+.
I asked Vic how Google was going to use user signals to improve the home stream algorithm to make browsing Google+ a more personalized experience.
Questions and conversation arose about the future improvement of the network in terms of nearby communication, circle management and overall improvement of Hangouts.
There was a question of “recommended users” and how Google is working to provide better suggestions for people you already know.
After almost every question, Vic tactfully summarized the inquiry and responded with (in most cases) “we hear you” and we’re doing X to make Y better.
As the first questions started to roll, I removed Google Glass from my face and set it on the table. I removed my phone from my pocket, silenced it and put it face down on the table. I didn’t want to document everything that was said. I didn’t want to try to get a video of the entire conversation and I certainly didn’t want to “live tweet” the event. I wanted to immerse myself. I wanted to be there.
(Unfortunately, I can’t give you any sound bites. I can’t directly quote Vic on anything he said because I wasn’t writing it down with pen and paper. I was living the moment and didn’t want to miss out on the experience.)
During the talk, Vic eluded to something very important, Google+ is more than what it appears on the surface. Google+ is helping to make Google better.
Now think about that for a minute. Normally you would think that Google and its other products would make Google+ better, but when you really think about it, the social interaction that you carry out through Hangouts and Google+ is incredibly useful in improving your traditional and predicative search experience.
Google is doing some incredible things in making our lives easier and connecting us with one another. My example of how I got to the Magnolia hotel would not have been possible without the magic of Google and its incredibly diverse teams.
According to Vic, Google has been doing a research in what we want to see from whom and when we want to see it. He pooled the group and asked us if we wanted to see our friends checking in at Chipotle with a selfie (he must have been following my stream that day as I stopped there for lunch and checked in on Google+). The group shook their head and said things like, “of course not!”
“That’s what we thought,” he said. “It turns out you do like seeing stuff like that.” (Keep in mind, I’m roughly paraphrasing.)
Through their research, Vic unveiled that Google was trying to discover what people really like to see in their streams and when they like to see it. He addressed the concerns of “stale” posts appearing at the top of people’s streams by explaining that they’re there because people don’t want to miss them. Consciously, we might find them out of place, but subconsciously, we really want to know what is going on with those people that Google ranks closest to us.
So how does Google determine who is closest to us? Vic explained a lot of “signals” that Google uses to determine who we really care about and who we are most inclined to interact with. That’s why you might see certain people at the top of your stream more often, or at the top of your circles when you go to manage them.
Google is using a lot more signals and gaining a lot more data as more and more people use the network and use it more often to help improve those rankings and offer a much more personalized and intimate experience.
Expect a lot of change coming soon. From improved circle management, to less confusing ways to share and even more rich features that users have been asking for over the last few years.
I asked about threaded comments and Vic assured that they were on the way, but as part of a completely improved discussion system. It’s hard to imagine what that would look like, but I could hypothesize something like YouTube’s new comment system coming to Google+. Imagine a new subthread in the original post for each share much in the way that comments work on Blogger and YouTube. My guess is that–or something similar–is coming to Google+ soon.
There will be improvements in “local sharing.” Vic hinted that we might soon be able to use features in our phone that have been laying dormant to start sharing information with those around us.
Ever leave a party and wonder how you could thank everyone for coming, whether they RSVPed or not? Currently, there’s no easy way to do that, but Google+ will soon have a solution that will make it effortless.
The best thing to come? Analytics. Soon pages and profiles will be able to see who and what is driving interaction to their accounts. I imagine this data is going to be extremely rich and much more useful than anything we have seen from third party developers.
Another thing Vic promised was better spam filtration. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this one, but Vic explained some of the signals that Google uses to determine who is likely to be a “low quality account” and does its best to filter those from bothering you with notifications and unwanted communication.
On the whole, Google+ is about to offer users a much more intuitive, seamless product that is going to work hand-in-hand with other Google products than it ever did before.
Tacking & Tachometers
Throughout the conversation, there were a few questions along the lines of “Why hasn’t Google _____ or ______.” Vic responded to those in sum by explaining a sailing technique called tacking. In tacking, the sailor “tacks” the boat by steering its bow through the wind so the direction that the wind blows changes from one side of the boat to the other. The maneuver helps the sailor to take advantage of the wind and get the boat to its destination with great speed in a zig-zag fashion.
Vic explained that in order for Google+ to succeed, it needs to continuously change its course and focus to ensure that it is covering ground in the fastest way possible. Because the Google+ has limited resources, instead of spreading them thinly, they work in a concentrated effort to overcome large obstacles together. This technique of tacking enables Google to stay ahead of the curve. The only downside to the strategy, is that not everything can be developed simultaneously. It takes a great deal of time and effort to make the smallest change to the platform because of the considerations that must be taken every time. Suggestions that seem simple to us may be quite complicated in execution.
Right as the conversation was wrapping up, someone asked Vic about the watch on his wrist. Personally, I was curious to see if he had a Pebble, Sony Smartwatch or Galaxy Gear, instead, he tugged back on the sleeve of his jacket and unveiled a beautiful and unique timepiece. This watch was not smart in terms of its Wifi connection, LCD display or processor. It was smart in terms of its design, its rarity, and the incredible story behind it.
“This is a very personal story, but I want to share it with you,” he began.
It was a wonderful story, and it showed how vulnerable Vic felt during the launch of the product that we have come to love. I would share it with you, but some stories are just best left to be told in person.
What to Expect
I would imagine that this year’s Google I/O will be more about the human element than it ever has been before. Hangouts was recently the number one app in the iOS App Store, Google now offers the most immersive and intuitive platform to store unlimited photos and the way that those photos and videos can tell stories will be taken to an entirely new level.
We’re all story tellers, and I’m betting that this platform will soon help us become better at discovering, sharing and telling our unique and personal tales.