A Technology Moment.
It’s not often I see a pig flying by my window singing “Hollywood Nights”.
In fact, until last week, never…
It all started when I received an iMessage from Andrew Nesbitt up in Brisbane about a new cafe that’s part of the national broadband network. It has free, ridiculously fast Wi-Fi.
I wasn’t sure where it was so I looked it up with Google on my iPhone.
Sure enough I found it.
Nothing too spectacular so far…
I picked up my Galaxy Nexus phone to download a program to test.
I’d just upgraded the Nexus to the jellybean version of the Android operating system (a saga worthy of it’s own article).
I had a “WOW" moment.
When I unlocked the phone, Staring at me was a beautifully designed card with driving directions, a map and an estimated time with current traffic conditions to Hungry Birds cafe. With a tap of the blue arrow, it would navigate me to the fastest free wi-fi on the planet!
Remember, I had searched for the cafe on my iPhone. When I picked up my Android device, all of the information was there.
Since the Google I/O conference in San Francisco in June we’ve seen a heap of heat and light about the new Nexus 7 tablet and the Jellybean operating system (The latest version of Android – 4.1 for those keeping score!). I’ve been evaluating both over the last few weeks and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed.
The gulf between the iPhone IOS operating system and Jellybean is getting smaller.
I’m not going to do a review here. There are plenty of places online you can get your review and comparison fix.
I’m going to talk about the thing I think saved Google…
The Power Of Context.
Without realising it, we carry our smart phones with us everywhere. This gives Google (and Apple if they choose to use it) many opportunities to deliver things to you in context (context may well become the most important word for the next 5 years).Your phone records many things about you. Up until a few weeks ago, this was largely useless information.
Think about it, your phone knows where you are, how fast and what direction you’re going, it knows how bright or dark it is, in theory it can listen to the sounds you’re hearing and what you’re seeing through its camera.
Don’t worry-the sound and seeing thing is not happening (it could and can with your permission).
With this data collection, your smart phone can start to understand your patterns, where you go, what times you leave, what routes you take. Just before I started writing this article, when I turned on my Nexus 7 tablet, the tablet asked me whether this particular place (shown on a nice map on the home screen) was important to me. When I looked closely, I realised it was the cafe I go to every morning at around the same time! This is cool, and I can understand, a little bit freaky.
As your smart phone starts to recognise these patterns it can do a number of incredibly useful things for you.
- It can alert you to traffic
- It can tell you of other things you need to do in the vicinity of where you’re going
- It could let you know if you need fuel and where you can get it.
- It can let friends know how far away you are
- It could, in theory send you offers…
As I began to experience this incredibly powerful context search in the guise of Google’s new “Google Now" service, some strange things Google have been doing started to make sense.
Google has been facing a major battle on at least 2 fronts.
The biggest problem Google is facing is the way Google creates it’s search index.
It’s fundamentally broken.
For 13 years, anchor text and the pages they point to were the fundamental building blocks of Google.
This made perfect sense for 13 years, as links became the way people navigated the web.
Along came Facebook and Twitter and changed the game.
The only people who create links these days are traditional media, Digerati, and spammers.
No real person who has an opinion or likes a site will create a link. They will click a like button, they will retweet, they will use a hashtag. They will not create a link (in the traditional sense!)
The sad fact is the vast majority of links created in the world today are manufactured links purely for the purpose of SEO rankings. As a result, Googles results have become worse. If you want to test this, try searching for a hotel in a foreign city!
Google’s not stupid, they’ve seen the writing on the wall for years. This is well documented in Stephen Levy’s excellent book “In The Plex".
Google knows, to stay relevant in this day and age, they need real social signals from real people. Where Jane Smith checks in using foursquare is much more important than a link generated in a high-tech sweatshop in Costa Rica.
Google is locked out of the two biggest indicators of what real people like and are interested in.
Facebook has never given it’s most valuable data to Google (Although Bing has access to this information) and in the past 12 months, Twitter turned off its real-time feed to Google…
To combat this, Google has created its own “social network" – Google+.
The mistake people made, including yours truly, is looking at Google+ as a social network. Something to compare with Facebook and Twitter.
This is wrong. And it took Google Now to show me the light.
Before we explore this, let’s address problem two.
How Smart Phones, and More Importantly, Siri are kicking Google’s Ass.
Google is full of incredibly smart people. When they got wind of the iPhone, they knew what it meant. If Apple held the gateway to search through these personal devices pretty much every single human being on the planet would eventually have, Google was history. As we now know, Smartphones are well on the way to becoming the primary computer device for most people, Google were in all sorts of trouble.
And this was before Siri…
By Christmas next year, a full 50% of all searches on the planet will be made from a smartphone. Think about your own behaviour, I suspect most of you reading this will be using your smartphone way more than you use a computer. When you start looking at what Jack and Jill Smith are using, the answer is certainly a smartphone.
Google created Android to make sure there was an alternative to iPhone. It was the move Google had to make.
I believe this saved Googles bacon.
Google makes virtually no money from Android, but in terms of getting phones out into the general population – it has been very successful.
Again, this totally did not make sense to me until I realised the power of Google Now.
When Apple introduced Siri, it also introduced the concept of high quality, highly edited, context aware pieces of information. When you searched for a business, you also got a Yelp review. When you ask for a sports score, it delivers it to you on a beautifully designed plate. It’s much easier to ask a question than type it out on a smartphone.
This technology is far from perfect, but mark my words, it’s the future.
Not only was Google cut out of the most lucrative part of the smartphone market (the iPhone), all of the signals it relied on to make Google the best search engine in the world were disappearing, or worse, being manipulated on a grand scale.
I seriously believe Google was effectively dead. They just hadn’t figured it out yet.
Enter Google Now.
While most of the world was fixated on dudes jumping out of an aeroplane with some fancy glasses on their head at Google I/O. I rewound and rewound and rewound the section on Google Now.
I could not believe what I was seeing.
If Google can execute Google Now, and not run afoul of the privacy police, they may have just pulled off one of the greatest end runs in history.
I’ve not been kind about Google+. I readily admit it.
As a social network it sucks dog balls.
There’s not a single compelling reason for Joe and Jane Smith to use Google+. Why would they ever leave Facebook, to use it?
The digerati love it because it was NOT Facebook, and without the noise of the usual social networks, were able to network more effectively themselves!
I openly mocked Google as they announced the incredible growth in Google+ membership. As soon as you sign up to any Google service including YouTube or Gmail – guess what – surprise! You’re on Google+.
Google have been playing “Rope A Dope”  with everyone, they where happy to receive potshots like mine.
They had their eyes on a far greater prize.
It’s funny, in researching this article, Google again and again were crystal clear (and not as I suggested “on crystal meth”) about two things.
*Google+ is not a social network *Google+ IS Google (implying everything would be unified under Google+)
When I read this back, even the name “Google+” sucks as a name for a Social Network.
It’s a perfect name for an information and context enhanced network that knows what you need to know before you even know it.
Next Step – Connect Everything Together
For the first time all of this information could be aggregated.
Everybody looked at this as a privacy fight, this was classic misdirection. While the minor amount of hand wringing was occurring, Google was planning on unleashing Google Now.
Nobody thought to ask what Google could do with all of the information in was now pooling together…
Passing The Julie Test…
Long-time readers will know my wife is hardly a technology fan. She is the yin to my yang when it comes to gadgets.
Julie’s a fantastic bellwether of when a technology really is going to take off and hit the mainstream. When she got her 1st iPhone and started texting like a lizard drinking on the touchscreen I knew the iPhone was going to be huge.
When she took to Facebook, with all her friends, I knew it was going to be be huge.
When I showed her the Google Now traffic tile to our coffee shop, complete with directions and most importantly traffic indicators and estimated time of arrival; It was one of maybe half a dozen times in the last decade she was truly impressed with a technology!
Update Listening to This Week In Tech John C. Dvorak, perhaps the most cynical tech journalist in history, was uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the same thing that impressed Julie, along with showing sports scores for his team.
Google Now Is Going To Be A Player.
You see, Siri was a massive step forward for one simple thing. Using your voice is easier than typing. Everybody can talk, not everyone can type.
I was convinced Apple (armed with Siri) was going to kick Google’s ass. The lack of signals from their traditional links and being squirrel gripped out of personal data by Facebook, and Apple was going to cause Google massive problems.
I didn’t anticipate the best import method of all…
You don’t do anything, your device anticipates what you need and is waiting for you when you flick it on.
There was a book I read way back in the early 90s which had a profound effect on my ability to predict which technologies will dominate, and which ones will fail. I’ve really built my career off the back of this book.
There are a number of crucial rules in this book, the important rule in this case is simply this…
“For a new technology to replace an old technology, it must be as easy or easier to use than the prior technology"
This is profound. I’ve applied this rule again and again. Think of any major success of the past decade and you will see this rule repeated again and again.
Facebook–check iPhone–check Twitter–check Gmail–check eBay–check
You get the message.
The problem (opportunity!) Apple and Siri have is simple.
It doesn’t work every time.
Siri will never reach wide scale adoption until it works 999 times out of 1000.
I love Siri (literally!). I’m accepting of her occasional lapses. Real people, however, are cruel. If she lets them down a couple of times – they’ll move on.
This is what makes Google Now so dangerous (or from Google’s perspective, awesome!)
There’s nothing to fail.
You pick up the phone or your tablet and the information it anticipates you need is there, based on your habits, location and context.
And we are nothing, if not creatures of habit.
How can you be disappointed by a technology delivering information you were not even aware you needed but was surprised and delighted when you received it.
This is powerful (and bluntly, way more important than any cool hardware discussion).
I think he’s nailed it. This will be the battle of the next decade. If your business relies on getting traffic from a search engine in any shape or form – you had better pay attention.
The Hipsters and the Digerati are going to freak about this!
Google (like the Honey Badger) doesn’t care. Google+ is generating enough social signals for them to figure out what’s important. Now they have data across all of their properties (and anything they buy – like Zagat’s for example: Update Google just bought Frommers!!). Google have the social signals they need to stay relevant in the search game for the next decade.
Joe and Jane Smith are going to love Google now because bluntly – it looks like a magic trick.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – Arthur C. Clark
Let me be clear. This is not a zero-sum game, Apple and Google are in prime position to dominate the next age of information delivery and truly virtual assistants who anticipate your every need.
Apple also has the ability to build these contextual, anticipatory technologies into Siri. Do they want to? I don’t know. Do they need to?
I suspect so.
What Should We Do?
The first to feel the effects of the context economy – local business (I’m not referring to size here, i’m referring to the fact they operate out of a physical location).
It’s going to be vital to keep information up-to-date. My favourite coffee shop does not have a proper Google+ listing, and can not completely take advantage of Google Now.
They also don’t have a good Yelp listing, Siri won’t recommend them as a great cafe nearby. As the context driven economy takes off, this will be fatal.
If you have a physical real-world business (Or you’re somebody who services these businesses) you need to get your butt into gear. Figure out the information sources both Google Now and Siri are using and make sure everything is up-to-date.
Encourage regular customers to check in, plus, tweet, like and anything else you can get them to do.
Google has been saying it for the longest time, Google+ is not a social network. It doesn’t need to be.
Google+ fundamental foundation layer binding all of Googles properties together to provides signals to Google Now so it can deliver contextual content in anticipation of your needs.
If you’re a taste maker/market leader/influencer in your niche. You need to be on Google+ stat. It won’t drive traffic (unless you’re after Hipsters, Googlers and Digerati) it will do something WAY more important.
Google+ will set your context in your market and in the next five years, this will be way more important than mere traffic
Yes, I’m recommending you use Google+
Yes, a pig just flew past my Window belting out “Hollywood Nights”
One More Thing…
Ground Zero in the shift to context is your smartphone. With Android it will be Google Now, Apple, will have Siri.
Google get this and are working hard in catch-up mode. The new Google+ application on both iPhone and Android is absolutely gorgeous.
Facebook’s mobile efforts make my dog Larry’s breakfast look like a “three hat” meal.
This is the subject for another article, but I want to preview a key point here.
Facebook is blowing it on smartphones. Ask anyone.
I mean, anyone.
For the longest time they’ve had this slavish desktop centric view of Facebook.
In the age of context, this is a massive problem.
Where do all of these context rule bits of information come from?
That’s it, you’re getting it, your smartphone.
If people aren’t using Facebook on the smart phone, Facebook is not getting the best contextual information. This is a massive problem.
Facebook are also very smart and my understanding is they have hired a crack team from Apple to build a proper native application. This had better be true. I’m quite serious when I say Facebook could become MySpace because they missed the context boat.
Remember, it’s not what you, I, the hipsters and digerati want. It is what Joe and Jane Smith want.
They think Google Now is pretty damn cool.
It’s a bit of magic that surprises and delights, brightening up their day.
The best bit, they do nothing for the magic to happen.
That’s why I’m calling Google Now…
A Game Changer.
If you’ve got this far and think this Article is as important as I do – Please take a sec to like, retweet and of course Google+ this post..
“Rope A Dope” was the famous strategy Muhammed Ali used against George Forman in the greatest fight of all time captured in the magnificent documentary “When We Were Kings” – Ali talked a big game, he was going to “Dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. When the fight actually started he hugged the ropes and let George wail away at him while he covered up. He tired George out and then unleashed a terrifying battery of punches to win the greatest fight of all time. ↩