Issuu on Google+

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Your cover is one part of a much larger work of art celebrating the ways in which technology is bringing people together. The piece was hand-drawn over a three-day period by Ryan Chapman, Jasper Dunk, Dale Edwin Murray, Daniel Frost, Matthew Hams, Yasmeen Ismail, Jean Jullien, Chetan Kumar, Paul Layzell, Maggie Li, Dominic Owen, Hattie Stewart, Toby Triumph, Robbie Wilkinson, Paul Willoughby and Dan Woodger. The entire artwork is on the enclosed poster. See how you connect.


Welcome to

T H I N K Q UA R T E R LY The PEOPLE Issue


06 THINK PEOPLE


People. Think back to the first time that you went online. Browsers were clunky. Having enough bandwidth to watch video was a pipe dream. Connecting online with people you knew was hard. How things have changed. There are two billion of us connected to the internet across the globe. By 2020, there will be five billion people accessing the internet on over 50 billion devices – phones, tablets, TVs, even refrigerators. The internet is information, but information is inseparable from the people who are creating, consuming, and sharing it. And the web is no longer anonymous – it’s built on real people and their connections, opinions, and ideas. That’s why we embarked upon the Google+ Project. We’d like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to the web. Businesses must position themselves to grow and thrive on this people-powered internet. Behind every click is a person. They are stirring up seemingly small ideas that lead to awe-inspiring political and social change. How can we truly engage them? This issue of Think Quarterly is people talking about people. We hope that the diverse spread of thoughts and opinions helps you connect with your customers, your employees, and the human soul of your business.

Nikesh Arora Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer, Google

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CONTENTS

12

Executive Insight

Richard Branson on why people matter Words By Caroline McCarthy

20

Project: People

Bradley Horowitz on Google+ and the people web Words By Bradley Horowitz

26

Power to the People

Meg Pickard on building digital communities Words By Meg Pickard

30

The mobile metamorphosis

Google Homegrown on the changing face of mobile technology Words By Jess Greenwood

34

From Cash to Contentment

Joseph Stiglitz on economic well-being Words By Simon Rogers

40

Happiness That Doesn't Cost the Earth

DATA VIZ

A guide to happy countries images By Column Five Media

42

The People's Revolution

Wael Ghonim on social media and the egyptian revolution Words By Matthew Lee

08 THINK PEOPLE


48

The Knowledge

Ron Conway on his top 10 people, ideas and trends Words By Ron Conway

50

Passion, Not Perks

Laszlo Bock on workplace happiness Words By Laszlo Bock

56

On the Make

Phillip Torrone on the diy maker movement Words By Phillip Torrone

58

Predicting the Present

Hal Varian on Google Insights for Search Words By Hal Varian

62

Kickstarting innovation

Yancey Strickler on crowdsourcing innovative investment Words By Caroline McCarthy

66

following generation Z

Ed Chi

on emerging web behaviors Words By Ed Chi

09


CONTRIBUTORS Think Quarterly represents the collective mindspace of journalists, academics, experts and industry leaders from around the world. Some are Google’s homegrown visionaries. Others lend their outside perspectives. All tell stories that you won’t find anywhere else.

10 THINK PEOPLE

Bradley Horowitz Meg Pickard Bradley Horowitz, a former competitive gymnast, can still hold a handstand longer than Google founder Sergey Brin, but he’s better known around the company as Vice President of Product for Google’s social products. He is a former Vice President of Advanced Development at Yahoo!, where he led its acquisitions of Flickr and MyBlogLog, and launched its Brickhouse incubator. Along with Google’s SVP of Social, Vic Gundotra, Bradley oversaw the launch of the Google+ project this summer, which he delves into on page 20.

Social anthropologist Meg Pickard is the Head of Digital Engagement for Guardian News and Media in London, responsible for developing and supporting social web strategies and participatory experiences. She has worked for a number of digital companies at the intersection of content, technologies, and social. She has also provided consulting and mentoring for start-ups, global brands, and charities. Meg is one of the longest-running bloggers in the UK. She offers her guide to building digital communities on page 26.


Jess Greenwood

Laszlo Bock

Phillip Torrone

Ed Chi

Jess Greenwood is director of Contagious Insider, the research, insight, and training arm of Contagious magazine. Contagious specializes in the identification of future-facing creative ideas, cultural trends, and technological platforms – and the innovative marketing campaigns that result from them. Contagious Insider collaborates with advertising clients and agencies on research, thought leadership, and creative consultancy. Jess believes the world would be a better place if more people did karaoke, and writes about the metamorphosis of the cell phone on page 30.

As Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock is the chief curator of the company’s ‘people culture.’ Laszlo has previously worked at GE, McKinsey, and Hewitt Associates, and he serves as an adviser and board member to several start-ups. He knows about connections between people – he briefly coheld a world record (along with 1,671 other Google employees) for the longest continuous chain of people in a Greek syrtaki dance. His insights on twenty-first-century corporate culture are on page 50.

Phillip Torrone is Senior Editor of MAKE magazine. He has authored and contributed to books on programming, mobile devices, design, and hardware hacking, and is a contributing editor for Popular Science. Phillip is also creative director at Adafruit Industries, an open source hardware and electronic kit company. Previously, he was Director of Product Development for Fallon Worldwide, ‘How-To’ editor for Engadget, and founder of electronics site Hack a Day. Phillip writes about the world of ‘making’ on page 56.

Ed Chi is a Research Scientist at Google, working to understand how we can design for evolving user behavior on social websites. He has authored more than 90 research articles, and was profiled by Time and The Economist for his work on ‘information scent;’ understanding how users navigate and understand the web and information environments. As a member of Google’s in-house research team, Ed keeps up with the changing online behavior of Generation Z, which he chronicles on page 66.

Contact thinkquarterly@google.com The articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinions and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or editorial team. thinkquarterly.com © Google 2011 11


Our people d style and pan RICHARD BRANSON 12 THINK PEOPLE


do it with nache./16 13


People matter. That’s the view of Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, whose unique approach to business has put him on top of the world. But don’t think he’s stopping there...

xecutive Insight Words by

14 THINK PEOPLE

Caroline McCarthy

illustrations by

Craig Redman


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It’s a Thursday morning in August, and a webcam is broadcasting live from a tropical hideaway. It looks like something out of Gilligan’s Island – except for the spaceship. The miniature model is perched on a bookshelf in front of a stucco wall, overhung by a thatched roof. Everything is calm until, out of nowhere, Sir Richard Branson bursts into the scene. He’s wearing a loose-fitting white T-shirt and an ear-to-ear grin. “Is this working? Can you hear me? Yes? Hello, there!” This is the Virgin Group founder’s first time in a Google+ Hangout. The unusual backdrop betrays his location: He’s on Necker Island, one of several pockets of land he owns in the British Virgin Islands. Technically speaking, he’s on vacation. Only Richard Branson is never on vacation. There are over 300 companies worldwide under the Virgin umbrella, and embodying them all is a full-time gig. It’s a diverse portfolio that includes an undersea exploration unit, several wine distributors, a concert festival series, and multiple airlines headquartered on three continents. Still, let’s not forget the perks: Necker is the ultimate private getaway, ringed by white-sand beaches and cerulean seas. It’s also classic Branson – a place where business pragmatism goes hand-in-hand with adventure pursuits and eco-friendly philanthropism. The island doubles as a luxury resort, with a portion of each guest’s bill going straight to Virgin Unite, the Group’s charity arm. It’s this combination of flair, generosity, and sensitivity that has fueled Branson’s success. Where business bestpractice suggests that only a ruthless pursuit of the bottom line can guarantee results, Branson intuitively grasped that people matter. And the things that matter to people matter, too. That’s how he’s succeeded when so many were convinced he’d fail. It’s how he

16 THINK PEOPLE

took on Britain’s biggest airline and won. How he sustained a cell phone brand in the crowded wireless market. How, as a personal project, he turned a Moroccan king’s New Jersey vacation home into a culinary destination. He accomplished these things by holding to the belief that Virgin brands should give people, whether employees or customers, something to believe in and someone to root for. Now he has his sights set on an even grander prize, because Branson is out to save the world – or leave it behind completely. Virgin’s ambitions have gone stratospheric. Virgin Galactic, an ambitious spaceflight start-up, is on track to take its first tourists into suborbital space next year, and will also handle science missions and satellite launches now NASA’s manned shuttle program has come to an end. Then there’s The Elders, a Virgin-backed nonprofit that attempts to solve global conflicts through a coalition of seasoned leaders and humanitarians. It grew out of Branson’s last-ditch attempt, with the aid of Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan, to persuade Saddam Hussein to step down before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. “Out of that came the idea of setting up a group of elders headed by Nelson Mandela; a high moral authority who could go into conflict regions and try to solve them,” Branson says. “It’s got a very good chief executive who runs it as an independent organization and in an entrepreneurial way. We’ll run it just like we’d run any other business, except that it’s a not-for-profit – it’s a force for good rather than a force to make money.” Critics of Branson have been saying more or less the same things about him for three decades – that he’s reckless, unfocused, and more concerned with making a splash than with building

lasting businesses. Branson has been consistently good at proving them wrong, like those who considered the 1984 launch of Virgin Atlantic Airways an ego project that was sure to flop – it has, of course, been an extraordinary business success. Now that he’s hoping to use the Virgin brand to change the world, he wants other business leaders to take notice. “I think that in the past, people have assumed that companies are there just to create jobs and make money,” Branson says. “But that thinking is changing, particularly as people realize that governments can only do so much and companies must be more than just moneymaking machines. They must become a force for good, they must use their entrepreneurial skills to make a real difference in the world, and they must use their financial resources to make a real difference in the world.” Branson says that the starting point for such ambitions is the Virgin Group’s own workforce, which he imbues with a sense that they’re a very small part of something much bigger, both in terms of the business world and the global community. “Each of the individual Virgin companies starts quite small, and their reason for being is to take on some of the big giants, especially some of those giants that have got a bit fat and flabby, and prod them in their stomach and do things a little bit better than has been done in the past,” Branson explains. “Our people do it with style and panache. They have fun. They try to bring good value for money, they try to make sure that the quality is better than any other company around, and they try to do it ethically. So I think that when members of the public come in contact with the Virgin brand, generally speaking, they feel they can trust it, and I think people


who work for the Virgin brand want to make sure they don’t let the brand down.” Branson’s own origin story emphasizes above all that he started small; he famously created a magazine called Student at the age of 16 and, several years later, a mailorder record company called Virgin. This, of course, begat the Virgin Records powerhouse that became so successful that it funded Virgin’s expansion into the airline business – the rest, more or less, is history. Plenty of billionaires tout humble roots involving lemonade stands and assembly-line factory jobs, but few are as adamant as Branson that all their employees know what it’s like to be part of a small operation up against far bigger competitors. At Virgin Records, he’d even split up employees’ physical workspaces as the company grew in order to maintain an underdog atmosphere. “As the record company got bigger, when it had more than 100 people in a building, I’d go in and ask to see the deputy managing director, the deputy sales manager, the deputy marketing manager, and I’d say, ‘You’re now the marketing manager, the sales manager, of a new company,’ and we would then find a new building, set up a brand new company, and we kept on replicating this,” Branson explains. “We had about 25 different record companies in 25 different buildings, rather than one massive group of people in one building. It seemed to work, and so as much as possible we continued to try to do that. I think if you’ve got more than 150 people, it’s very difficult for a chief executive to know everybody and for everybody to know each other well.” Perhaps it’s because he can’t be on a first-name basis with his employees any longer that he’s expanded his ‘people’ focus to embrace just about everyone on the planet. Among the current projects

“The idea is to allow anybody who wants to experience being an astronaut to go into space. That’s the challenge we’ve set ourselves.”

Quantify: People

Summer is a sleepy time for social sharing. Every kind of content – videos, news, photos – sees a drop in how much it’s shared across the web during the summer months.1

at Virgin Unite are a fundraiser to combat the current hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, a campaign to support homeless teenagers in Australia, and a Virgin Galactic-specific scholarship fund to encourage math and science careers in the US. Detractors might say that Virgin Unite is spreading itself too thin, but Branson would argue that creativity and a willingness to experiment is the best way to change the world as well as run a business. It’s an example that he, as his brand’s own best marketing vehicle, hopes to set for those both inside and outside Virgin. Getting Saddam Hussein to step down didn’t work, but the pieces of that failed effort turned into The Elders. A failure is rarely a dead end. As the conversation winds down and Branson prepares for a leisurely day of kitesurfing, he chats about the status of Virgin Galactic, which has had a handful of false starts, but which finally seems to be on track for a 2012 lift-off. Many people have already eagerly paid for their $200,000 tickets. But what Branson really wants isn’t just to hurl billionaires into space for a few minutes; rather, he ultimately wants to use Virgin Galactic as a vehicle for research and eventually, as costs drop, a way for ordinary people to experience the extraordinary. “I think in time that price will come down. The idea is to allow, one day, anybody who wants to experience being an astronaut to go into space,” he says. “That’s the challenge we’ve set ourselves.” For now, they have a creative and particularly Virgin-esque alternative: Two million frequent flier miles on Virgin Atlantic Airways can be cashed in for a trip to space. “If we have an airline and a spaceship company, we might as well have one help the other,” Branson says with a grin

17


Sir Richard Branson Unvital Statistics

What is your earliest memory?

If you had to stay in one place, where would it be?

A terrible temperature drop.

What do you want that you can’t have?

Hugging my family.

World peace, but The Elders are working on it.

When were you last surprised?

What is your greatest extravagance?

Swimming with 300 whale sharks. Magnificent!

Necker Island, a home for my wife and children.

What do you see in the mirror?

What was your greatest mistake?

Sunburn from kiteboarding.

Not swimming with whale sharks sooner.

How much is enough?

Which piece of music alters your state of mind?

What’s your signature dish? White wine with ice. When was your last moment of clarity? 2am this morning. What does success look like to you? Being at home on Necker with my family.

I can tell you what’s had enough: Our planet. What gets you out of bed in the morning? The sound of lizards on the stone path outside our window.

Anything by Peter Gabriel. Who is your inspiration? Nelson Mandela.

When did you last let yourself go?

What do you want to be when you’re older? Me at 16.

What is your biggest failure? Most days! Not wearing enough sunblock. When did you last feel ashamed? What song will play at your funeral? I couldn’t help a young woman in need of a liver transplant.

18 THINK PEOPLE

‘Like a Virgin!’

Tell us a joke… What’s the longest word in the English dictionary? ‘Smiles.’ There’s a mile between the first ‘s’ and the last ‘s’


...let them d that were p impossible. BRADLEY HOROWITZ 20 THINK PEOPLE


do things previously ./24 21


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Project: People

Google Vice President of Product Bradley Horowitz offers his perspective on the launch of Google+ and the potential of the ‘people web’ to make our lives better. When I first got involved in the internet in the mid-’90s, it was just a collection of web pages created from scratch with online consumption in mind. Then, with the rise of what was called ‘web 2.0,’ it expanded to include all sorts of media that was previously the exclusive realm of the offline world: videos, pictures, live performances, news, and more. And in the past five years we’ve begun yet another phase in the evolution of the

internet, something we can loosely call the ‘people web.’ This period has been marked by the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, standing on the shoulders of earlier successes such as MySpace and Friendster. At Google, people-related searches have always been one of our most popular categories, and we work hard to understand that when someone types or speaks ‘John Smith’ into the Google search box, it’s

a person they’re searching for and not just a string of characters. We’re getting pretty good at it, but the advent of the people web gives us a chance to do much, much more. This isn’t true just for Google. The rise of social networks, and the rich set of information they contain about people, their connections, and their preferences (what we call the ‘social graph’), has the potential to make the entire web better.

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The internet is already pretty awesome, but it’s also created a whole bunch of problems that we never had before. Focus, for one. Social networks are great when you only have a few dozen friends, but when that number is a few hundred, your update stream becomes a torrent. Sharing is another. There are dozens of ways to share things online; so many that it’s become a very confusing experience. My work friends are different from my school friends. When I walk into a bar, it’s different from when I walk into a church. There’s a nuance to relationships that’s hard to capture online. And privacy is obviously important. When people are putting their entire lives online, they should be fully aware of who can see what, and they have to remain in full control. In my job, we often ask ourselves, ‘What should the internet be doing for people that it’s not doing today?’ It should be improving people’s lives by leaps and bounds, helping them spend more time on what’s important, helping

24 THINK PEOPLE

them establish deeper, more meaningful connections. Eric Schmidt likes to say that with the internet you should never be bored, because you can always find your friends online, make new friends, and see what’s most interesting to you right now. The people web presents us with a great opportunity not only to give people their lives back, but also to let them do things that were previously impossible. The Google+ project, which we launched in June, is the beginning of our effort to put people at the center of all Google products. This is essential to our mission: Information is inseparable from the people who create it, react to it, and pass it along. Or, to put it in the context of my earlier example, if you actually know John Smith, then when you do a search for him we may return very different results for you than for someone who doesn’t know him – like photos from his recent vacation. The same goes for ads, email, YouTube, and our other services: Understanding people and the social graph can make all of them better. With Google+, we’re starting to chip

Quantify: People

Within three weeks of Google+ launching to the public, over 120 people had used Google Docs to create a collaborative manual that was available in English, German, Russian, and Chinese.2


away at some of the big problems that the web has created. Circles bring real-life nuance to online sharing, and give you granular control over the updates you see in your Stream. Hangouts are a whole new way to casually meet up with friends – it’s like Cheers for the web. Sparks pulls interesting content from around the web about stuff you care about. The Mobile app makes it brain-dead easy to share what’s around you right now (and makes sure that pictures aren’t locked in your phone forever). We’re doing all this while paying close attention to people’s privacy. This is a big challenge, not just for Google but for practically any internet company today. People need to have complete control over what’s private and what’s public, and they need more ways to let us know how we’re doing in this regard. When we first launched Google+, our users let us know that it was pretty easy to re-share stuff that was only supposed to go to a particular Circle. So we quickly put in a feature to warn people about that and let them disable re-sharing.

“Over 65,000 people have me in their Circles, and as my profile is open for comments, I get to hear new ideas from them all the time. This creates real intimacy between me and my users.”

What’s great is that we’re using Google+ to get feedback like this all the time. Over 65,000 people have me in their Circles, and as my profile is open for comments, I get to hear new ideas from them all the time. This creates real intimacy between me and my users, and it helps them to see that Google isn’t a nameless facade, but real people trying to make great products. Sometimes I start Hangouts so we can interact directly with them. One night last week I talked, face-toface, with people from Bulgaria, Singapore, and Vietnam, all from my living room in Palo Alto. Isn’t that extraordinary? Or maybe not. We’re hearing all sorts of stories about people using Google+ to make new connections. Vic Gundotra, who leads our social efforts, told me a great anecdote. A few weeks ago he was checking out his Stream and saw a post from Chee Chew, an engineer in our Kirkland office. Chee wondered whether Hangouts could be useful for deaf people to chat online with sign language. ‘That’s interesting,’ Vic thought, so he re-shared it. Soon, 200 other people had shared it, and by the next afternoon Chee was in touch with a computer scientist in the Midwest who was already working on tools to make it happen. That’s cool. There are more: A surgical consult between Kentucky and New York conducted via Hangouts; people in the military connecting with loved ones back home; concerts on Hangouts; a crowdsourced Google+ user guide translated into German, Chinese and Russian. I’m sure stories like this aren’t limited to Google+, since our competitors are also helping people all over the world do great things on the people web. But hopefully we’re pushing them with some of our innovations, and I’m sure they’ll push back with some of their own. And so our project continues. We have a richly competitive field, millions of people giving us great ideas and using our products in ways we never considered, and an environment that can make people’s lives better all around the world. There’s so much to do, and so few hours in the day. I think I’m going to go Hangout for a while. Care to join me?

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26 THINK PEOPLE


ower eople to the

Digital engagement expert Meg Pickard reveals the secret to building better online communities. Meg Pickard Fernando Volken Togni

Words by ILLUSTRATIONs by

Near my house is the stop where I catch a bus every morning to get to work. I’m not alone. Every day, there are half a dozen people already standing in line, glancing at their watches or variously lost in books, music, or the morning papers. I join the line and more people join behind me until finally the bus comes and the journey begins. Is this group of people a community? We share a common location, motivation, and cultural understanding

(we know how important it is to form a line), but we’re not (yet) a community – the relationship that we have isn’t with each other but with the service provider, in this case the bus company. Whenever we think of a group as a community, stop and check: If it’s a group of people with lots in common, but without interactivity or interrelationships, perhaps what we actually mean is an audience or demographic.

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In the digital environment, companies have more opportunities than ever to find ways to encourage the people formerly known as the ‘audience’ to flourish into communities of common interest, circumstance, and, best of all from a commercial point-of-view, action. Digital engagement has become the voguish term for some well-established skills in this area: Community management and organization, digital communication and participation planning, social product development, and strategy. It’s a catchall term describing different kinds of participation in and around digital products. It touches tools and technologies as well as skills, approaches, and policies. My role as Head of Digital Engagement at Guardian News and Media in London is about exploring and supporting new forms of interactivity and participation, as well as ‘digital praxis’ – realising our desire for alternative forms of storytelling and collaboration brought to life through new platforms and skills. Although I’ve been working in digital content for well over 14 years, my background is in social anthropology. In the mid-’90s, I found myself a world away

28 THINK PEOPLE

from the early internet boom, in highland Bolivia, doing ethnographic fieldwork on the subject of community formation, identity and the small daily rituals that signified belonging to a particular cultural group – the equivalents of raising a glass and saying ‘cheers’ when drinking with friends. If I, an outsider, could adopt the habits and rituals of a community group, would that make me part of the community? Of course not. Community is more complicated than that, isn’t it? After spending time in Bolivia, I started looking at similar issues of community formation and rituals in what was then called ‘cyberspace.’ My dissertation supervisor told me dismissively that there was no such thing as community online, and I’d be better off going back to South America. The university now teaches courses in digital anthropology. It may seem like a strange transition – from the Bolivian Altiplano to the cutting edge of the internet – but social anthropology has always been about understanding people, relationships, social structures, patterns of behavior and beliefs, and how they impact, reinforce, and challenge cultures and communities.

Through that lens, people’s activities, relationships, and social groupings online are just as valid and interesting as those in the ‘real’ world. Behind those hundreds of millions of screens are real people, in real communities. Social activity online is an extension of community and socialization, and it challenges as well as extends our social literacy, norms, and identities. Since the internet is powered by people, what better place is there for an anthropologist? During my first few years online, I wasn’t really using my anthropological training a lot. As a producer and editor for a global internet company, most of my time was spent creating content and products for audiences. But in the evenings, I was sharing photos, meeting up with fellow bloggers, and hanging out online. When the world started to wake up to social media around 2004, I was already experienced; immersed in that world but with the business insight and analysis that came from my anthropologist’s brain. What looked like a hobby became a career in online communities, social media, and now digital engagement. Engaging in the social web as a creator and community member, not just a detached observer, has made it


Quantify: People

Fifty-seven percent of people talk more online than they do in real life.3

BECOMING A TRULY SOCIAL MEDIA ORGANIZATION MEANS THINKING DIFFERENTLY. HERE ARE FIVE SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO HELP SOCIAL MEDIA HELP YOU. 1. Commission, write, edit, and curate with the web in mind.

easier for me to understand what’s going on in that world, because it’s my world, too. Corporate research and customer insight teams are very good at helping staff understand the makeup and movements of audiences on site, but on external social media platforms like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and so on, there’s no substitute for spending time with the communities, talking and listening to them in order to understand them better. Anthropologists might call this ‘participant observation,’ but it’s basically just hanging out, meeting people, and paying attention. It doesn’t just open doors in terms of access to communities, it opens your mind to what motivates, delights, and displeases them, which means you can make better products and services; things that actually solve user issues and fill customer needs. They may not be your (only) customers, but you can learn a lot from spending time with them in their space. Too often companies embark on social media strategies that emphasize broadcasting to a community rather then engaging with it. My motto is ‘embrace, don’t replace.’ Don’t bend a service such as Twitter to your will, or treat it as an extension of your own site.

Be aware of the norms and etiquette of the communities you are engaging with. Listen more than you talk, be prepared to learn from your community members – and let that change what you do in future. That’s a truly social media approach. Nor can you magic a community into being. They already exist and have established ideas, membership, motivations, and ways of working. Think about how you can work with those established groups, and help them do what they want to do. Act as a platform or a way of enhancing their activities rather than trying to get them to do something that only suits you. The best communities enable people (including businesses) to engage in contexts of mutual interest, for mutual benefit. In the Guardian community standards, we say, ‘The platform belongs to us but the conversation belongs to everybody.’ This ‘mutualized’ approach is something that we’re seeing across the media landscape. It drives loyalty and personal investment in a story (or brand, or product), and makes people more likely to share their participation in it with their social graph megpickard.com

2. Anticipate and plan for likely interaction. Is this a conversation? How would you like people to respond? Sometimes you need to invite particular kinds of contributions. If you think your content has the potential to get heated, tell the moderators in advance and keep an eye on it yourself. 3. Participate and encourage participation. Keep an eye on conversations you start and get involved where relevant and possible. Invite particular perspectives and tease out interesting kernels into new ideas and conversations. 4. Recognize and reward quality contributions. Give attention and praise to things that are constructive or interesting. Don’t reward negative behavior with attention. 5. Keep it up! Try and build some digital engagement activity into your daily routine, even if it’s just running Twitter in the background and reading/responding to comments once in a while.

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30 THINK PEOPLE


The cell phone is no longer just a communication device – it’s our most personal computer. While its original benefit came from providing a basic channel of access to personal contacts, the addition of functionality in the form of apps and the mobile web have squeezed actual communication down to a much smaller percentage of our activity. Phones no longer merely connect us to people; as their available features grow more complex, customizable, and personal, they connect us to ourselves. The Homegrown community was assembled from Googlers in 19 countries. They met online over a month-long period to discuss what their cell phone means to them, and what we can learn from mobile use in different cultures, both in terms of differences and unexpected similarities. The community found, for example,

considerably advanced mobile commerce systems in three markets – Japan, Brazil, and Kenya – which otherwise share very little in terms of technological evolution. The unifying theme? Whether driven by the embrace of technology, population density, or necessity, it’s clear that we’re relying on our phones to fulfil ever more various and individual functions. This steady metamorphosis from the mobile device as single-purpose caterpillar to multi-functional, self-reflexive butterfly dates back to the first camera phones, with the revolutionary idea that the item we used to communicate could prove a useful tool for other purposes. But it’s been the arrival of the third-party application system, and the subsequent influx of creative talent into spaces like Android Market, which have enabled more

and more functionality. Today, we use our phones for everything from accessing navigation and transportation data, to finding sports results and recipes, to playing games like Angry Birds, and even organizing our personal finances. With greater functionality comes an enhanced ability to make your phone your own. Where customization used to be limited to fancy wallpapers or a favorite ringtone, today there’s a whole galaxy of apps and features to make your phone highly personalized. And as they grow even more customizable and complex, we’ll be able to adapt them into digital self-portraits that are both personal and social. Sherry Turkle is the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and the author of several books on the ‘subjective side’ of people’s relationships

The Mobile Metamorphosis Words by

Jess Greenwood

illustrations by

Andy Miller

From communication device to our most personal computer – mobile technology now connects us not just to each other, but to ourselves. But where is the evolution of the smartphone taking us?

This article is the product of research done within Google Homegrown, a digital community of 100 early adopters from inside Google’s employee ranks around the world. Homegrown was set up by Google’s Market Insights team, in conjunction with market researchers Brainjuicer and Contagious Insider, the consultancy division of Contagious magazine.

Quantify: People

Forty-three percent of US adults say they’d be willing to give up beer for a month if it meant they could keep accessing the internet on their smartphones. Thirty-six percent said they’d give up chocolate.4

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Quantify: People

One in five Android owners would rather lose their wallet or purse than their phone.5

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with technology, including The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, first published in 1984. “When I wrote Second Self, I acknowledged the ways in which computers could be seen as an extension of ourselves,” she says. “With the cell phone, we’ve gone one step further. The way we can build and customize our phones around our interests and hobbies – whether you’re a foodie or a gamer or a social butterfly – is another way of constructing technology, so in essence it becomes a reflection of yourself.” There’s a demand for even more customization, too, as early adopters of mobile technology become more vocal about wanting these digital devices to continue to solve problems that they already encounter in their everyday lives. “I would like to see more apps that simplify my daily life on the go: Paying bills, accessing online banking, viewing credit card transactions, and so forth,” one Homegrown respondent said. And so the mobile device undergoes a second metamorphosis, this time into the everything device. The desire to inject more of our everyday lives into our cell phones might go some way towards explaining why, despite several years of innovation, owners remain so preoccupied with their device’s battery life – convinced that it still isn’t good enough. It’s something that device and app manufacturers find that they must continually address. Early adopters like those in the Homegrown community often take things into their own hands, establishing elaborate systems in order to keep their phones alive. Using a variety of third-party apps, they took care to manage things like Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, switching off power-draining apps temporarily, and even managing their phone’s brightness setting. Yet somehow, they say, many are still forced to charge their battery every night. Meanwhile, with the mobile device occupying an amorphous space that simultaneously encompasses work, family, and social life, users set their own boundaries and rules for exactly who gets contacted and through which of the phone’s many communication channels. Some of us use chat for work purposes; others for friends. Work

colleagues are email only – never voice calls. Families can be texted or, very occasionally, called. “I use chat during my commute,” explained one Homegrowner. “IM is great for catching up and it helps me multi-task – I may not be able to have six phone calls concurrently, but I can certainly have six IM conversations.” Importantly, this fragmentation of contact channels works two ways. As new channels layer with (rather than replace) each other, it has meant that while there are more ways to contact the individual, access to these channels can be stratified and rendered more – or less – exclusive. Sharing a Twitter handle or even phone number is one thing, but access to someone’s BlackBerry Messenger PIN can mean something else.

“We assume that the way things are now will be the way things are in the future. As mobile technology evolves, we have to ask how each functionality serves not only as utility, but has a human purpose.” But, as the Homegrown community shows, we want to make sense of all this. Most users would consider some of the functionality of our mobile devices – a financial planning app, for example – to be personal and private. Other aspects, like an app for sharing photos, might be something they’d use to connect with people. Many mobile users are increasingly embracing their ability to lead select parts of their lives in public, participating in communities based

on common interests wherever they happen to be. The always-on mobile user thus creates a sense of control through categorization and sorting. One can imagine that this process is stressful for those who want to use voice calls with work colleagues, text messages with friends, and photo-sharing apps with family. Intriguingly, the Circles functionality of Google+ aims to address this exact issue, given that ‘sharing’ is by no means a blanket concept, and our digital networks are not simply megaphones through which to yell at everyone. By creating their own customized Circles for sharing, each individual gets to act as a traffic control tower, routing content and communication in a variety of different directions, through one interface. The systems through which we interact with our personal networks and devices are in a constant state of change. Sherry Turkle’s most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, addresses this squeezing of communication in favor of other technological pursuits. “Just because we’ve grown up with the internet, it doesn’t mean the internet is all grown up,” she comments. “We assume that the way things are now will be the way things are in the future, and the same is true of cell phones. As mobile technology continues to evolve, we have to keep asking how each additional functionality serves not only as utility, but has a human purpose.” Riepl’s law, hatched by media theorist Wolfgang Riepl almost a century ago, states that ‘new, further developed types of media never replace the existing modes of media and their usage patterns. Instead, a convergence takes place in their field, leading to a different way and field of use for these older forms.’ While simple communication continues to hold a place in the constellation of functionalities that makes up the average smartphone, the transition from connecting device to personal computer has enormous implications for the products we develop, the interactions we solicit, and the ways in which we engage with the wider world. Smartphones are smart, but they’re going to get smarter. We just have to steer them in the right direction

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...far from p but psychom respectable MARTY SELIGMAN 34 THINK PEOPLE


perfect, metrically e./38 35


From Cash to Contentment Is well-being about to take the place of GDP as the arbiter of economic health? Those in the know – including godfather of well-being Joseph Stiglitz – offer their expert insights. Words by

Teaching British civil servants how to be happy is not what you’d expect from a Pennsylvania professor of psychology. But helping Whitehall understand well-being is precisely what Marty Seligman was doing this summer in London. Seligman has a history of getting into tricky places. The expert in positive psychology was hired by the US Army to develop a ‘resilience program’ to help soldiers cope better with the stress of combat. Now he’s trying to help the rest of the world become content. And governments are listening. As recession bites hard in the major economies, governments are trying to find new ways of judging their societies – not by the amount of money they generate, but by the happiness of their citizens. In February 2012, experts from the world’s most developed countries will gather in Paris for a key summit on the issue. The brightest minds are spending time, money, and effort trying to make something they don’t fully understand yet actually work. “You cannot capture happiness on a spreadsheet,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. So why bother at all? Until now, our lives have been ruled by

Simon Rogers

illustrations by

Nick White

one measure: Gross domestic product, or GDP. A recession, for instance, is defined as two consecutive quarterly falls in GDP – but what does that actually mean? The idea of a single number to show a country’s economic power came from US economist Simon Kuznets. It was 1937, and the US was emerging from the Great Depression. Kuznets’ idea, presented to Congress that year, was simple: Measure all production by companies, people, and government. That would give a big number that represented everything the economy produced. It would go up in good times, and down in bad. What GDP misses, however, is arguably more important than what it includes. Robert Kennedy argued that GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” Even Kuznets agreed that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.” And it is a perverse measure. Because GDP is all about production, it doesn’t take

account of the state of the environment, inequality between rich and poor, the value of an individual economy’s assets, and how sustainable the growth actually is. If you have a major disaster, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for instance, it will actually have a positive effect on GDP as the economy works to recover. It is the baleful influence of GDP that motivates the godfather of well-being, Professor Joseph Stiglitz. The Nobel Prize-winning former World Bank Chief Economist and Columbia professor points out that an obsession with GDP actually helped push the US into the housing bubble that burst so spectacularly. “In the years before the crisis, many people in Europe were saying they ought to follow the American model as GDP growth was greater. As an American, I was a little bit sensitive to some of the weak points – the fact that most Americans were worse off year by year, our growth was based on a bubble, and prices were distorted,” he says. “That was quite a dramatic illustration because now people realize the growth the US had was not sustainable and was going to only a small group of the population. Today, you don’t hear that argument much.”

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The answer is to measure something else – but something broader than ‘happiness.’ Happiness is intangible; wellbeing, on the other hand, is measurable in the same way that our economy is. It was French president Nicolas Sarkozy who asked Stiglitz to look at other ways to measure how well a nation was doing as part of the country’s presidency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Well-being is now being examined in the US, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, and Spain. There are parliamentary commissions looking into the issue in Germany, Norway, and Denmark. The OECD has also launched its Better Life Index, where users can go online to compare countries across a range of indicators from wealth and crime to housing and inequality. In the UK, David Cameron has taken a personal interest in the issue, ordering national statistician Jill Matheson of the Office for National Statistics to organize a $3.2 million-a-year project to work out how to measure well-being. The UK project is led by policy wonk David Halpern, a key part of Cameron’s Downing Street brain trust and head of the Behavioural Insight Team. Halpern previously worked for Tony Blair’s Labour administration. While Blair debated the issue and ordered research, very little actually happened. But Cameron, watching from the Opposition benches, took it all in. Halpern says the project “has a profoundly democratic element to it because it’s driven by what people really want. Only a small part of your life is spent in paid employment,” he adds. “When we spend time with our friends or watch TV, those things are very consequential but we don’t measure them.” For Jill Matheson, it’s a chance to make a difference. The ONS has already started surveying 200,000 people about their level of fulfillment, anxiety, and stress – the socalled ‘subjective’ measures – in its annual Integrated Household Survey. She has also produced a major report into how to look at ‘objective’ measures – wealth, income, childhood, and inequality. In October this year, the ONS will produce a detailed report on how it proposes to measure these factors.

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Matheson dismisses the media’s verdict that this subject is ‘woolly,’ giving results that will be ill-defined compared to the hard data gathered by GDP. “It puzzles me,” she says. “I don’t know what is woolly about asking people about their lives; you can measure these things. When people start seeing results, that label will disappear.” Marty Seligman agrees that it can be measured “about as well as schizophrenia, depression, and alcoholism. [It’s] far from perfect, but psychometrically respectable.”

“Happiness is intangible; well-being is measurable in the same way that our economy is.” But it seems unlikely that we will ever get a single ‘happiness index’ – one number that shows how happy we all are in the way GDP shows our wealth. Not least because the international community could never agree on one. “We’re a long way off a single indicator,” says Matheson. Stiglitz agrees, and doesn’t believe there should ever be one. “No single indicator would be adequate to describe what’s going on,” he says. “If you were driving you might want to know two things: How fast you’re going, say 50 miles per hour; and how far you can go without running out of gas, say 150 miles. While each of those two numbers is individually very meaningful, if you add them together you would have a figure that was totally meaningless.” But how can you get politicians and – more importantly – their treasuries to take notice? According to David Halpern, having a well-being measure could have a powerful influence on policy. For example, take moves by central government in the UK to cut costs by closing post offices. “Post offices are expensive, so the answer

has been to shut them down. But do they do something else, which we don’t capture?” Halpern asks. Confounding the suggestion that the well-being debate is an idea for the rich West, Stiglitz argues that it is even more important for developing nations. For instance, a company destroying a country’s environment could pump up that country’s GDP, leaving very little money going back into the economy, and thus damaging national well-being. “Some of the biggest disparities between GDP and well-being occur in developing countries,” he says. Marty Seligman, whose positive psychology theories are being trialed in both US and UK schools, says the moves are encouraging but may not go far enough. Talking about the UK in particular, he says: “Number 10 is seriously interested in the measurement of well-being and the possibility of judging public policy by its effect. It is scientifically informed, which is a good first step. But well-being for a nation, or flourishing for an individual, is more than just the subjective judgment of life satisfaction.” This is Seligman’s PERMA theory: Positive Emotion; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning; and Accomplishment. Ask the well-being experts what makes them happy and the answers are diverse. For Jill Matheson, it’s seeing her soccer team, Derby County, win (“Which probably implies that I’m a pretty miserable bugger”). For Marty Seligman, it’s the fact that he’s about to watch The Sound of Music at home with his family and then play internet bridge. And Joseph Stiglitz? Family, of course, and work – he’s just back from a highlevel visit to crisis-ridden Greece, Egypt, and Spain. “One of the things that money contributes most to my well-being is the security that it gives me,” he says, “especially when I compare myself to people who are at the margin and I see their constant struggle to make ends meet, and how absorbing it is of their energies.” But what does he do to relax? Photography, it turns out. “I like taking pictures,” he says. Then he laughs. “But I don’t have time.”


Quantify: People

When the University of Maryland asked a group of students to unplug from social media for 24 hours, they reported frantic cravings, extreme anxiety, jitters, misery, and even craziness.6


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The People’s Revolution At the start of the year, the Arab Spring saw protests sweep through the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt, the ‘Facebook revolution’ was powered by a unique coming-together of people and technology. Matthew Lee traveled to Cairo to meet one of those people caught up in the protests Google’s Wael Ghonim.

Words by

Matthew Lee Sam Christmas

Photography by

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When it comes to selecting the most iconic images of Egypt’s revolution, several shots enter the frame. It’s hard to forget the shocking pictures of thugs on camels attacking peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square or, a couple of weeks later on the same spot, the hugs, smiles, flags, and fireworks that greeted Hosni Mubarak’s resignation after three decades in power. But perhaps the most powerful image is a blurry freeze-frame from a TV show – a close-up of a man sitting on a sofa and crying. On February 7, the guest on Mona el-Shazly’s popular talk show Al Ashira Masa’an, not usually a platform for dissent, had just been released from prison. Tired and vulnerable after 12 days of detention, Wael Ghonim repeatedly pledged his loyalty to his country and insisted that Egypt’s revolutionaries were peaceful people with honorable intentions. As photos of some of those killed by progovernment forces were shown to him, he broke down and wept. “I want to tell every mother and father who lost a son that I’m sorry, but it’s not our fault,” he said, his voice cracking. “It’s the fault of those who have clung to power for so long and won’t let go.” Moments after he walked off stage, a message circulated on Twitter: ‘The regime in Egypt was just demolished live on TV by a 30-year-old man’s tears.’ A quarter of a million people joined a new Facebook group: ‘I authorize Wael Ghonim to speak on behalf of young Egyptian revolutionaries.’ But he had no intention of being their leader. Six months after he was interviewed on Dream TV, Ghonim – a Google marketing manager who is now on sabbatical – finds himself in an apartment in Al Rehab, 20 minutes from downtown Cairo. He’s talking with conviction about how the revolution happened and why it was necessary. But it’s with even greater conviction that he downplays his own role in the uprising. This wasn’t a revolution led by a single, charismatic individual. It was a leaderless

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“If you block people from accessing Facebook, it raises a flag that you’re scared [...] It reassured us that the people were strong.”

movement that used the internet to galvanize millions of Egyptians. But it began with the death of one man. In the summer of 2010, 28-yearold Khaled Said was killed in police custody. The photographs of his body that circulated online became a symbol of endemic police brutality. In response, Ghonim, acting alongside two others and taking the pseudonym ‘El-Shaheeed’ (‘The Martyr’), set up a Facebook page called ‘We are all Khaled Said.’ It soon became a focal point for the growing unrest. It was on that page that the first ‘Silent Stands’ were organized – political flashmobs designed to send a sharp message to those in power. Participants, having received the details on Facebook, stood five meters apart to circumnavigate a ban on protests. They stood silently for a few minutes before going home without having said a word. Within a few weeks, the protests were taking place in towns and cities across Egypt, and throughout the Arab world. “It was proof you could bring the internet to the streets,” says Ghonim, who had been quick to realize the potential of the internet as a mobilizing tool. “Lots of political analysts, particularly in the West, argue that the internet can’t help movements on the ground; that it can facilitate contacts between pre-existing groups but that a virtual group can’t cross over into the real world. We proved this wrong.” As the movement gained momentum, there was talk among Mubarak’s advisers of shutting down the social network, a ploy that Ghonim is sure would have backfired. “If you block people from accessing Facebook, it raises a flag that you’re scared,” he says. That is exactly what happened when the regime finally pulled the plug on January 27, two days after Ghonim organized a huge demonstration in Tahrir Square. “Banning Facebook on January 27 helped us,” he admits. “It reassured us that the people were strong and the regime was


“Political analysts in the West argue that the internet can’t help movements on the ground. We proved this wrong.” 45


scared, so more people took to the streets. At that point, a lot of the people just watching and monitoring what was going on became convinced that they needed to be part of the action, while others who had been scared started to become more self-confident because they saw that the regime was weaker than they thought. I tweeted on January 27 that a government that is scared of Facebook and Twitter should govern a country like Farmville. If they’re scared of their own people, then they’re doing something wrong.” Newly emboldened by events in Tunisia, where President Ben Ali had recently been deposed, the talk among Egyptian activists turned from reform to revolution. “I asked people on the [Facebook] page if we could get hundreds and thousands on the streets,” Ghonim recalls, “and the comments were, like, ‘Let’s do it!’ and ‘We’re ready to die!’” Other activist groups in Egypt chose to protest alongside them. It was going to be a united show of strength – much more than just another protest. On January 25, around 50,000 people across Egypt took to the streets; within four days it was closer to a million. On the evening of January 27, Ghonim tweeted: ‘It seems the government is planning a war crime against the people tomorrow. We are all ready to die.’ The following morning, while hailing a cab, he was taken by state security. The authorities had one man behind bars, but by now the revolution had a momentum of its own. “On January 25, the Facebook page was instrumental,” Ghonim says, “but from January 28, I had no control over it. There was no central management, nobody telling people what to do.” As the uprising grew, his Twitter prediction turned out to be accurate – the state resorted to violence. By the time of the TV interview, the fear factor was creeping back in. Mubarak was prepared for a fight, and people were nervous about the prospect of a long period of instability when the economy was already so weak. But in that interview, Ghonim helped

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“The internet played a critical role in sparking the first event. Without that it would have been very hard [to succeed].”

Quantify: People

Social media is multi-lingual and multi-cultural. In a study of 62 million tweets collected over a four-week period, only half were in English and over 100 other languages were used.7

win over mainstream opinion, giving greater legitimacy to an increasingly broad movement. The mood across Egypt was changing. They had to keep fighting until Mubarak stepped down. Looking back, how important does he think the role played by technology was to the revolution? Could the Egyptian people have succeeded even 10 years ago? “Ten years ago people were not as angry as they are today,” Ghonim replies, “but the internet certainly played a critical role in sparking the first event – and without that it would have been very hard [to succeed]. The idea was that if thousands of people break the fear, tens of thousands will join them and hundreds of thousands will follow, then millions. The question was how to get thousands of people on the streets without access to the mainstream media [to spread the message]. The internet assumed the role of the mainstream media and played a critical role in sparking the revolution.” While acknowledging the importance of Facebook and Twitter, however, Ghonim strikes a note of caution when assessing the role they should play in future uprisings. “I think it’s important that tech companies take a neutral role,” he says. “They shouldn’t support ‘x’ over ‘y,’ even if ‘y’ is clearly evil and ‘x’ is good. The best thing is to give people technology and let them sort it out themselves. You don’t need to tell them what they should be doing. That’s why we were successful.” As he gets up to leave, there’s just time to ask him about the flip side of social media – what Evgeny Morozov calls ‘the dark side of internet freedom’ – its capacity to be used as a tool of control and misinformation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ghonim remains an optimist, retaining some of the Silicon Valley utopianism that has become the hallmark of his generation. “In the twenty-first century, the more you make restrictions, the more you are vulnerable,” he argues. “The more open you are, the better it will be for you. In the long run, the idea of controlling the internet isn’t an ideology that’s sustainable.”


The Knowledge Ron Conway

of SV Angel, long regarded as one of Silicon Valley’s wisest investors, picks 10 people, ideas, and technologies that are spicing up the ways we connect and communicate.

01Collaborative Software

Eating Consumption ‘Rent instead of buy’ doesn’t just apply to houses anymore. Now there’s Zipcar for car sharing, Listia for swapping physical goods, and Zaarly for soliciting local services – all of which have the potential to disrupt long-established industries. New societal and technological changes are creating online communities built around trust and reputation where users can transact directly with one another, offering flexibility and removing the burden of large fixed costs.

the World

I’m really inspired by what fellow venture capitalist Ben Horowitz said in a recent online debate: That our economy is shifting because software is ‘eating’ the world. Put simply, software from Amazon to Netflix to Pandora is consuming and transforming huge offline and physical markets at an unprecedented clip, creating new businesses and rendering old ones unrecognizable. The fundamental trends that Ben cites, like a tenfold increase in programming productivity, enable this to happen and render previous market-size estimates obsolete.

Brazil Parker Warby

Brazil is South America’s biggest economy and largest recipient of foreign investment, and it’s gaining a powerful new middleclass of eager consumers who should be on the mind of any company that’s looking to innovate on a global scale. With hosting duties for World Cup soccer in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 on Brazil’s agenda, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more in the next few years. 48 THINK PEOPLE

It’s one thing to build a successful company online but it’s another thing entirely to build a beloved consumer brand. Warby Parker, an online eyeglasses retailer headquartered in New York, sells hip and high-quality glasses through a gorgeous interface at almost unimaginably low prices, because its founders discovered a brilliant way to cut out the ‘middleman’ factor. They also donate a pair of glasses to a person in need for each pair that they sell. warbyparker.com


Christopher at San Francisco P ole Medical Center

University of California

You might know Chris Poole as ‘moot;’ the founder and moderator of the forum 4chan – a huge, influential hub of internet pop culture and viral trends (ever heard of ‘lolcats’ or the Rickroll? They started on 4chan). Last year, he debuted Canvas, a site that gives creative and humor-minded internet users like 4chan’s a broader suite of tools so they can build the next wave of digital microentertainment. Poole is extraordinarily young – he was 15 when he started 4chan in 2003 – but he’s one of the smartest people out there when it comes to understanding how online communities grow and thrive. canv.as

Online to

Offline Thanks to advances in mobile technologies, the links between online and offline commerce are becoming much stronger. We’re seeing the merger of digital payment models with incentives for consumers to go to physical stores, where merchants can forge more meaningful relationships with them. Services like Groupon and shopkick add a tracking component, letting merchants know how online behavior influences offline purchases. Social media and social commerce sites are also creating loyalty and advocacy, influencing the ‘traditional’ offline business.

07Social Commerce Just being able to shop online isn’t enough. The most innovative new retailers are seizing new ways to build buzz and get shoppers to help them spread the word. Niche retailers like Fab, Everlane, and Lot18 bring limited-inventory shopping to discerning buyers who seek the feel of an independent boutique, and reward users for sharing their finds with friends; while sites like Svpply and Pinterest let users curate what amounts to their own digital product catalogs. It’s inspiring to watch these new brands build loyalty.

As a member of the Chancellor’s Advisory Board, I’m active in fundraising for the new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Last year, we partnered with Causes.com on a fundraising competition where we rewarded those with the ability to spread the word rather than those with the deepest pockets. The competitor who encouraged the most people to donate received naming rights for a new recreation space in the children’s hospital. Influential people from all over the tech community, from Google’s Marissa Mayer to actorinvestor Ashton Kutcher, led ‘teams’ of their own.

Discovery

Social

Community

Many new ways are springing up for people to meet one another based on shared interests and affinities. I’ve invested in a few companies that are really pushing the boundaries here, like LAL (short for ‘like a little’), a sort of digital icebreaker for college students looking to meet one another, and Friend.ly, a questionand-answer site that encourages you to express yourself so that your friends can get to know you better. These sites are building really engaging communities. lal.com / friend.ly

10 Founders at the helm The common wisdom used to be that if you were a young entrepreneur, one of the first things you should do is hire somebody experienced to run your company. But after seeing the extraordinary dose of creativity and energy that Apple received after Steve Jobs’ return following a decade’s absence, the value of a founder is more important than ever to the world’s most innovative companies. Now you see young founders like Dennis Crowley of Foursquare and Brian Chesky of Airbnb, who are as eager to build and lead a company as they are to hatch the next big idea 49


...I wished with the b and lava la LASZLO BOCK 50 THINK PEOPLE


her luck beanbags amps./54 51


Quantify: People

Twenty-three percent of search queries happen during work hours.8


Passion, Perks not

Words by

Laszlo Bock Jack Hughes

illustrations by

Nurturing the people in your organization doesn’t require expensive perks or touchy-feely gimmicks. It’s about motivating, engaging, and listening – and it can work for anybody. Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations, explains how.

A friend from a Fortune 500 company called me recently. “Our CEO wants us to be more innovative,” she said. “He asked me to call you because Google is known for having an innovative culture. One of his ideas is to set up a ‘creativity room’ where we have a foosball table, beanbags, lava lamps, and lots of snacks so people can come up with crazy ideas. What do you think? How does Google do it?” My friend and her CEO were clearly familiar with the Google perks that get all the press: The free cafes, the funky offices, and the games. What they weren’t familiar with are the three components of our culture that really make our company different. Moreover, my personal belief is that these three

components are relevant and applicable to almost any organization, because they describe the conditions necessary (although not sufficient) to foster creative, committed, and innovative teams.

Mission We spend more time working than we do on almost any other activity in our lives. People want all that time to mean something. Other companies make similar products, and yet our employees tell us that they are drawn to Google because being here means something more than ‘just’ searching the internet or linking friends. Mission statements are easy to write, but difficult to realize. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make

it universally accessible and useful. That’s nice rhetoric, but how do you make it mean something? Because our mission is a bottomup encapsulation of what excites Googlers, it creates an arena where data and people can be brought together in surprising ways, ranging from Speak2Tweet (the voicemailto-Twitter application launched during the Egyptian revolution) to a father sending his daughter a twenty-first-century message in a bottle (as seen in our ‘Dear Sophie’ campaign for Chrome – check it out on YouTube). The translation of our mission into something real and tangible has a huge effect on who decides to join Google, how much engagement and creativity they bring to this place, and even on how they feel and behave after leaving.

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Transparency

‘Default to open’ is a phrase sometimes heard in the open-source community. Chris Grams from Red Hat defined defaulting to open as “…rather than starting from a point where you choose what to share, start[ing] from a point where you choose what not to share.” Google didn’t create this concept, but it’s safe to say we ran with it. We share everything we can. We have a weekly all-hands meeting called TGIF, hosted by our founders, Larry and Sergey. In the first 30 minutes, we review news and product launches from the past week, demo upcoming products, and celebrate wins. But the second 30 minutes is the part that matters most: Q&A. Everything is up for question and debate, from the trivial (“Larry, now that you’re CEO will you start wearing a suit?” The answer was a definite ‘no’), to the ethical (“Is Google going in the right direction?”). A few weeks into every quarter, our Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, presents to all Googlers virtually the exact materials that were presented to our Board of Directors at their last meeting. Our intranet includes product roadmaps, launch plans, and employee snippets (weekly status reports), alongside employee and team OKRs (quarterly goals) so that everyone can see what everyone else is working on. We share everything, and trust Googlers to keep the information confidential. And if you think about it, if you’re an organization that says ‘our people are our greatest asset,’ you must default to open. It’s the only way to demonstrate to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy adults and have good judgment. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how, and why) will enable them to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways a top-down manager couldn’t anticipate.

Voice

Believing in a greater good and knowing what’s going on are important, but people then need to be able to translate their beliefs and knowledge into action. We try to have as many channels for expression as we can, recognizing that different people – and

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different ideas – will percolate up in different ways. The channels include direct emails to any of our leaders; TGIF; various sites and listservs; Google+ conversations (of course); the Google Universal Ticketing Systems (‘GUTS’ – which is a way to file issues about anything, and is then reviewed for patterns or problems, similar to New York City’s 311 line); ‘FixIts’ (24-hour sprints where we drop everything and focus 100 percent of our energy on solving a specific problem); and a wide range of surveys. But just as important as generating input is doing something with it. We regularly survey employees about their managers, and then use that information to publicly recognize the best managers and enlist them as teachers and role models for the next year. The worst managers receive intense coaching and support, which helps 75 percent of them get better within a quarter. Our largest survey, ‘Googlegeist,’ solicits feedback on hundreds of issues and then enlists volunteer employee teams across the entire company to solve the biggest problems. A new engineering-toproduct management rotation program, and the across-the-board salary increases we provided at the beginning of the year, are just two recent examples of programs that have come out of Googlegeist. Some people will argue that giving employees so much information and such a loud voice leads to anarchy, or to a situation where, since everyone’s opinion is valued, unanimity is impossible, as anyone can object and derail an effort; an environment where 10,000 people can say ‘no’ but no one can say ‘yes.’ The reality is that every issue needs a decision maker. Managed properly, the result of these approaches is not some transcendent moment of unanimity. Rather, it is a robust, data-driven discussion that brings the best ideas to light, so that when a decision is made it leaves the dissenters with enough context to understand and respect the rationale for the decision, even if they disagree with the outcome. I was at a dinner of Chief HR Officers once and one told me, “Well of course Google can do this. You guys have great margins. I’m in a business with low single-digit margins. I can’t afford cafes or TGIFs or

any of the things you do.” He was right that he couldn’t afford the cafes, but the cafes don’t actually have anything to do with it. Before I could reply, another person jumped in and said, “What are you talking about? Most of what makes Google’s culture work is free.” She was right. The bulk of what we do to cultivate this creative, passionate workforce costs nothing. Making our mission tangible is a natural outcome of who we are. Defaulting to open and giving Googlers a voice is a natural consequence of acting in accordance with what we believe about people. And personally, I believe this is an insight about the human condition. People look for meaning in their work. People want to know what’s happening in their environment. People want to have some ability to shape that environment. Mission. Transparency. Voice. These three components of our culture create a virtuous cycle of attraction, community, engagement, and innovation. With all this in mind, I turned back to my friend on the phone. I told her a bit about how Google thinks about these issues, and suggested that perhaps their CEO could try videotaping his staff meetings and sharing the recordings with people so they can see what’s going on in the company and what’s important to their leaders. “No,” she replied, “we’d never do that.” How about having junior people attend leadership team meetings as note-takers, and they could then be vectors for that knowledge across the company? “No, we couldn’t share that information with junior people.” Hmm… Okay. What about when the CEO does employee meetings, seeding the audience with the tough, provocative questions that people are afraid to ask. No? A different angle is to have a suggestion box – which she thought might work – and then each quarter let a self-nominated group of employees decide what suggestions to implement. And maybe even giving them a budget to do so? “Oh no, that won’t work. Who knows what they might do?” At which point I wished her luck with the beanbags and lava lamps


On the Make Words by

Phillip Torrone

making by

Jessica Dance

Quantify: People

Etsy, an online marketplace for independent merchants to sell handmade goods, saw its artisans rake in $314.3 million in 2010.9

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Being a digital citizen doesn’t mean sacrificing your interest in the world of real stuff. Welcome to the maker movement that’s turning virtual ‘bits’ into physical ‘its.’ Every May, at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in California, hundreds of thousands of people make the annual pilgrimage from around the world to meet the ‘makers.’ The event is Maker Faire, and it’s something like a cross between the world’s biggest science fair and Burning Man. Makers are people who create and share amazing things, such as a giant walking robot giraffe or a hacked plug-in-only Prius. You know the phrase, ‘Don’t try this at home?’ Well, you won’t hear that at Maker Faire. We’ve been making and sharing things for millions of years – it’s encoded in our genetic desire to create. But perhaps surprisingly, as technology has blurred the boundaries between the real and the unreal in the last decade, ‘making’ has enjoyed something of a renaissance. Forget the cliché of a lone hobbyist tinkering away in the garage; modern makers are more likely to work with each other, taking advantage of the sharing and publishing tools offered by the internet. As it’s become easier to share videos, photos, text, and everything else, makers have quickly adapted, using the web to pool knowledge and information. At a time when copyright concerns are beginning to dominate the tech world,

the modern maker can choose how and what is shared in these new online arenas, through open-source licensing and Creative Commons. One of the successes of this new type of sharing is open-source hardware, which, like open-source software, can be improved upon, shared, and remixed. Makers have always been making, but now they have more places to share, too. As the movement has taken off, websites like Instructables and Make have become go-to hubs for sharing projects and developing skills. If you’ve designed a protective case for your phone, you can upload it to Thingiverse and anyone with a 3D printer can download and print it out. It sounds like a Star Trek replicator, but it’s real and it’s happening right now. While Maker Faire events have expanded to more locations (there are over 30 per year, many of them self-organized), other, more permanent making spaces have started to pop up. ‘Hackerspaces’ are community-driven meeting places where resources are pooled to pay for space, hold workshops, and house awesome tools like laser cutters and CNC mills. It’s not just communities doing this either: Since 2007, Google has had its own Hackerspace, called Google Workshop, complete with welding equipment and hi-tech tools.

Commercial versions of Hackerspaces are called ‘TechShops.’ These fully equipped facilities have every tool you could think of to make your computer ‘bits’ into real ‘its.’ They’re membership-based – think of them as a gym for your brain. There are four TechShops in the US and another five on the way. Within the next few years, there will be about a dozen of them stretching coast-to-coast in some of America’s biggest cities. Nor is the maker movement just a feel-good social cause to get us thinking collectively about engineering and making again; it’s filled with thriving businesses. For some makers, Etsy, a Brooklyn-based sellers’ platform, has become a full-time job; while others have developed skills in repairing, recycling, and reusing into a rewarding side-business. As we ask ourselves what society will look like in a digital world, it’s worth remembering the words of Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics (a program that enables school kids to become scientists and engineers) and a famous maker in his own right. Kamen said, “We are what we celebrate.” That’s the maker movement: We’re trying to make the world a better place by celebrating ingenuity, creativity, sustainability, and, most of all, sharing

Hackerspaces There are thousands of hackerspaces around the world, which means there’s probably one near you. Find one or start your own. hackerspaces.org

Dorkbot With monthly meet-ups around the world, Dorkbot is a show-and-tell for ‘people doing strange things with electricity.’ dorkbot.org

TechShops Tool centers with laser cutters and 3D printers that provide all the training you need. techshop.ws

Online instructables.com makezine.com thingiverse.com

Where to Meet Your Makers Ready to jump into the world of making? Or perhaps you’re looking to meet emerging talent? Get immersed in maker culture at these places and events... Maker Faires Dozens of Maker Faires are happening each year. Check the official website for the latest details. makerfaire.com

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Pr ed ict in g

t n the e s e r P Hal Varian Anna Dunn & Rose Blake

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Infographics by

Hal Varian, Google’s in-house economist, teaches us how to extract marketing insights from Google searches. I recently asked a group of Googlers which day of the week had the most Google searches for the word ‘hangover.’ Most of them chose Sunday or Monday, although one party animal opted for Tuesday. We can find the definitive answer – Sunday – by using a nifty tool called Google Insights for Search. This tool can be used to examine individual queries, but it can also compare search volumes for different queries. For example, searches for ‘vodka’ peak every Saturday, one day before the ‘hangover’ peak. The exception to this

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regular weekly pattern occurs once a year, on New Year’s Eve. Searchblog’s John Battelle has called Google ‘the database of intentions,’ because search queries provide insights into people’s interests, intentions, and future actions. Needless to say, such insights can be very useful to businesses. Free tools like Google Correlate and Google Insights for Search enable you to use that database of intentions to ‘predict the present’ and better understand your customers’ behavior in real time.

For example, if you type ‘weight loss’ into Google Correlate you find ‘healthy smoothie’ and ‘meal replacement.’ Not too surprising. But you also see terms like ‘vacation destination,’ ‘cruises to,’ and ‘wedding checklist.’ And if you look at the searches that occur three weeks after the ‘weight loss’ query, you see ‘weight loss plateau’ and ‘not losing weight’ at the top of the list. Using the publicly available tools mentioned above, we’ve uncovered a number of interesting relationships. Here are some examples


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When do ads take effect? By comparing Google AdWords data and MasterCard SpendingPulse data, we can see that people click on ads the most on Mondays. Online spending follows quickly – but not immediately – with online commerce peaking a day or two later. Offline spending patterns have a greater lag, trailing by one week.

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REAL ESTATE Reading the real estate market with Google Trends: As foreclosures started to rise and median house prices dropped, search queries in the real estate category were correlated to the number of new homes sold in the US.

US CENSUS DATA

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“...search queries provid interests, intentions, 60 THINK PEOPLE


Quantify: People

Fifteen percent of daily global Google search queries are ones that Google has never seen before.10

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de insights into people’s and future actions.” 61


g n i t r a t s k n c i o i K novat In hy cCart g M e arolinrothy Hon by C Do rds

tarterslow s k c i ter, Kstry is to rs. s a f d n u e ster a to the indtruly matt a f g n i e t ’s movkler’s advicabout wha t a h t tric orld tory In a wr Yancey Sd craft a s nde deep, an u o f o c , dig down by Wo its tra por

For someone who’s made it possible for thousands of creative people to race against the clock in campaigns to fulfill their dreams, Yancey Strickler is strikingly slowpaced. Soft-spoken, with a shock of dark hair like a patch of unmowed lawn, Strickler is sitting in a makeshift ‘conference room’ in the hundred-year-old former millinery in Manhattan’s bar-strewn Lower East Side that houses his company, Kickstarter. Behind a graffiti-scribbled door and up a narrow staircase that feels like it isn’t far from collapsing, he’s telling the story of how he got here. Stories are precisely what make Kickstarter tick. It’s a service that allows artists, musicians, activists, and would-be civic leaders to raise money for projects by soliciting donations from the masses. Some of its most famous projects have included independent films, iPod accessories, restaurants, novels, and community gardens. It operates by a system of threshold pledges, in which individuals can promise to donate any sum of money but won’t have to pay it unless the project reaches a concrete

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financing goal by a date that is determined at the start of the fundraising process. Traditional marketing won’t necessarily get people on board. To be successful, a Kickstarter project must be adept at using videos, essays, and photography to grab the attention of strangers and persuade them to back an idea that doesn’t yet exist, and perhaps never will. The short version of Strickler’s story is that he found Kickstarter’s HQ on Craigslist. The long version is that he spent nearly a decade as a music journalist until, one day in 2005, he was sitting at a restaurant in trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he was a regular, when one of the waiters told him about an idea for a company that could help creative projects gain the financial and emotional support they needed to get off the ground. That waiter was Perry Chen, who’d previously worked as a day trader, a preschool teacher, an art gallery owner, and a musician as he drifted back and forth between New York and New Orleans over the course of several years. Chen was in constant contact with the struggling

creative upstarts who sparked his initial idea and are now the people whom Kickstarter is aiming to empower. He and Strickler joined forces, and in April 2009 they launched Kickstarter with the help of third co-founder Charles Adler. “Basically, Perry and I didn’t have any technical skills whatsoever,” Strickler explains of Adler’s involvement. “Charles, to us, was the internet, because he knew certain acronyms that we didn’t know.” When asked what the key to succeeding on Kickstarter is, Strickler is emphatic: “It’s not a marketing plan, it’s not a branding layout of what it is that they’re making; it’s a story of them, a story of the individual coming to this thing and why they’re trying to make this thing happen and what that quest is and what the goal is,” he explains, putting forth a distinct anti-corporate vibe. “We’re not interested in people selling a product on Kickstarter. That, to us, is not what’s interesting about a product. What’s interesting about a product is how you got to it and how you’re going to make it. So if you’re just looking


Quantify: People

Recommendations from other people account for 60 percent of all video clicks from the YouTube homepage.11


at this as a sales channel – as a storefront – you’re in the wrong place.” Yet running an effective Kickstarter campaign is marketing – albeit an innovative, narrative-driven breed of marketing that captures the energy of enthusiasts and their desire to be part of something rather than just passive consumers. A concept called the ‘TikTok,’ a case for the iPod Nano that resembles a wristwatch, existed only in an artist’s rendering before its designer, Scott Wilson, turned to Kickstarter. He said that all pledges over $25 would count as preorders, and put forth an impassioned call for donors who wanted to support not just another iPod accessory, but ‘a collection that was well designed, engineered, and manufactured from premium materials that complemented the impeccable quality of Apple products, not just clipped on a cheap strap as an afterthought.’ The TikTok raised over $940,000 on Kickstarter and is now sold in Apple retail stores. Kickstarter itself has become a sensation, backed by $10 million in venture funding from some of the most prominent investors in New York’s flourishing startup world. In July, the company announced that 10,000 projects had been successfully funded, over half of them in the fields of music, film, and video. Among its roster of successes are ideas that had been brewing for years but which had been left to lie fallow because their creators had no idea how they would raise the money. One of them is + Pool, a water filtration system that permits floating swimming pools to be embedded in urban rivers, and which has taken a crucial step closer to fruition. A Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2011 funded + Pool with over $41,000, thanks largely to beautiful computer-generated images of a swimming pool lying in New York’s East River at the foot of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Overheated locals, dazzled by the idea of a new way to cool off outside, placed their bets on it – and told their friends to do the same. “They’ve had that idea for a while, they’ve put it out there before, but they’re getting buy-in, both literal and emotional, from a lot of people and it’s creating a lot of momentum around this project,”

Strickler says of + Pool’s trio of founders. Their work is far from done – the project faces plenty of infrastructure and municipal hurdles now that its Kickstarter phase is complete. “I’m curious to see if it will happen,” he admits. Harnessing the energy of hundreds, even thousands, of small donors isn’t easy. Neither is great marketing. And a successful Kickstarter campaign is emotional marketing at its finest, offering up something that people love through a story that resonates with the creators’ enthusiasm, an exciting call for users to become a part of it, and an implicit promise that the creators will keep up that pact with the users. “I think what [marketers] can learn is something that will, in fact, be incredibly hard for them to recreate – which I think is a good thing – and that’s authenticity,” Strickler says. “The power of an individual telling a story about something they care about, or is important to them, and precisely defining how it is they go about doing that is exciting. As a backer or a spectator, I get the warm glow watching that thing come to life, knowing that I have a piece of it in some way.” There are lessons to be learned in how Kickstarter itself grew. This is a company created from passion and a keen observance of the world. It was conceived by a pair of thirtysomethings better versed in the art of itinerant dreaming than in software development or business management. Strickler and Chen didn’t want to simply ‘start something.’ They built a business that was years in the making, something meaningful but organic. More importantly, they built a business that not only has a story to tell but encourages everyone who uses it to do the same. “We weren’t trying to find something to make,” Strickler says of Kickstarter’s meandering rise through a digital startup environment rife with fly-by-night successes and me-too entrepreneurialism. “It was just that this idea made sense. And it made sense because we looked at our lives, and the lives of a bunch of our friends, and it was like, ‘We would all try this.’” kickstarter.com

It Started On Kickstarter Detroit Needs Robocop [Detroit, MI] When Detroit’s mayor balked via Twitter at the suggestion that he erect a statue of Robocop, the ’80s sci-fi hero who fought crime in the beleaguered city, internet enthusiasts decided to take up the cause. A Kickstarter campaign brought in over $65,000 and multiple offers from property owners willing to have the statue built on their land. Colonie [Brooklyn, NY] Intending to be used to fund standalone creative projects rather than lasting businesses, Kickstarter had been lukewarm on Colonie, a proposed eatery and wine bar conceived by three veteran restaurateurs. It initially rejected their application, but changed its mind. Colonie opened to rave reviews in early 2011, with the campaign serving not just to raise money but also to generate locals’ enthusiasm for a new neighborhood dining spot. Fresher than Fresh [Kansas City, MO] This ‘all-natural snow cone stand on wheels’ had a successful run in the summer of 2009, but in order to keep going for another season, its owners needed money to repair the 1957 Shasta trailer from which it operated. After getting $7,500 in Kickstarter funding, it was back in business. 110 Stories [New York, NY] On the surface, it’s an ‘augmented reality’ app that superimposes the outlines of the former World Trade Center towers in mobile photos of the New York skyline. Dig deeper, and 110 Stories reveals itself to be both a work of civic art and a memorial through visual storytelling.

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We’ve all been there. You’re standing with a group of friends, trying to decide where to go for dinner, when everyone pulls out their phone to start reading reviews. The more you discuss it, the more complicated it gets; one of you doesn’t like Thai food, another is vegan, and because there’s only one car between six of you, you can’t go far. How do you find a restaurant that makes everyone happy? This is the type of everyday problem that software can help to solve, but it’s not easy. It requires us to take multiple factors like location, diet, and transport into account when providing search information. In

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Google researcher Ed Chi reveals how the next generation of web users will behave very differently from today’s.

fact, these new demands encourage us to think about the search engine as more of an ‘insight’ engine, and that’s why Google is so interested in the social layer. While search is about navigating to a particular place, it is social data that enables people to make informed choices. I’m just one of several hundred research scientists on Google’s in-house research team, which stretches across everything from Gmail to Google+. My particular focus is on identifying key developments and trends in user behavior and designing systems to support them – backed up with big data analytics and a comprehensive


understanding of how social systems function. But Google had been thinking about the evolution of search long before I joined earlier this year: Its roots in the PageRank algorithm demonstrate how some forms of social signal – such as who is connecting with whom – have been used to inform the search process since the beginning. Aggregating relevant opinion is now a key part of the web experience, from shopping to restaurant reviews. As consumers, we now triangulate our decisions based on the recommendations of friends and family alongside general public opinion. But there’s still a need to contextualize some of this information.

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One person might leave a bad review for a Japanese restaurant because they don’t like Japanese food, rather than because of a bad experience at that venue. How do you weigh all these factors to help facilitate a decision in the shortest possible time? There are business-critical implications for marketers and advertisers, too. Whereas it used to be sufficient just to make yourself visible online (so that when people searched, you were there), now that so many businesses are visible, the challenge is to make yourself stand out in some other way – through your reputation, consumer trust or customer service. That means making sure that opinions on all these aspects of your business are

displayed to potential customers. And as it’s no longer individuals browsing but groups making joint decisions, tools like Huddle in Google+ are geared towards helping users resolve the issues that arise from those group situations.

The Information Flea Market

Filtering – helping users deal with only the most important and relevant information – is a big priority in this era of rapid development. Our information consumption is increasingly driven through social news, with friends, family, and colleagues recommending things they think are important or relevant to


us. Throughout the day, you’re likely to find yourself drip-fed information by friends in your social stream. And this is still a new behavior that people are experimenting with. Algorithmic curation is another lens through which information like the news is filtered. But users assign different levels of trust to algorithmically determined news, professionally curated news, and news selected by their friends. Those trust profiles aren’t entirely intuitive yet, and we’ve found that users are pretty demanding in their assessment of automated news curation if the results aren’t what they expected. They will be more forgiving if it’s personally curated, as if they can more easily rationalize an editor’s decision or the judgment of a friend who recommended a story. The way users relate to all these models is something we’re looking at very closely. Understanding how users respond to and interact with information within these frameworks will also be essential for marketers. As the very nature of information changes, the ability to grab news on the go means we squeeze these information transactions into tiny pockets of time, whether that’s scanning a news story a colleague emails you at lunch, or an SMS a friend sends you while you’re walking to the restroom. These are ‘micro-waiting’ moments – a flea market information experience. Where that experience used to be a dedicated, focused period of the day, it is now opportunistic, serendipitous, and targeted. I have combined observations of these trends with my previous work exploring knowledge-building communities such as Wikipedia, the social structures behind tagging system Delicious, and social recommendation through Twitter. These frameworks can help us understand how to develop curation models, identity, and reputation systems, and how to encourage serendipity as well as engagement. It means there’s a growing opportunity for businesses to explore the growth of this trend through the combination of tablets, mobiles, and social streams. For Google,

“There’s a whole generation at college that has never known a world without the web. They bring a new way of engaging with each other.”

Quantify: People

Over 100 million people take a social action with YouTube (likes, shares, comments, etc.) every week.12

it means offering a serendipity engine for the internet. Many of us grew up in a pre-digital era – we made phone calls and wrote letters, while public information was distributed through broadcast media. But now there’s a whole generation at college that has never known a world without the web. They bring with them a new way of engaging with the world, with information, and with each other. From Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to SMS and corporate messaging, this generation is developing an instinctive set of behaviors and expectations around these tools. They are very savvy in understanding which medium is most appropriate for the message and for the recipient, whether it’s a dinner invitation or asking someone out on a date. They know they have to find the appropriate interrupt signal, and that different channels send different signals, with numerous subtleties that we are only just starting to understand. In three years, that generation will be in employment, and marketers will need an intricate understanding of all their behaviors.

Users Evolve to Suit Their Environments

None of this means that web users will lose the depth and concentration of detailed reading. In a previous incarnation as a reading researcher, I studied the book as an information science problem, and found that even without a desk, a good coffee, and a full afternoon of reflection, people are able to make meaningful conclusions about the information they’re processing. In reality, our brains have learned to absorb and make sense of information during downtime. There’s a lot of evidence that social learning, engaging, and sharing with others is a far more effective way of learning than simply chasing citations or raw knowledge acquisition. Ultimately, humans are incredibly adept at changing their behavior to suit their environment, and the light-speed changes we’re witnessing are likely to prove more challenging for technologists and businesses to keep up with than for humans to evolve through

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Quantify: People Index Where we found our facts 1. Google Internal 2011

5. Telenav August 2011

2. JKWebtalks July 2011

6. Education Online (via The Atlantic) April 2011

3. Ogilvy February 2011

7. Characterization Study, Ed Chi et al. July 2011

11. Technical Paper on the YouTube Recommendation System 2010

4. Think With Google April 2011

8. Google Internal 2011

12. Google Internal 2011

9. Etsy 10. Google Internal 2011


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Think Quarterly - 03 People (US Edition)