I’m finding myself using Google+ more and more. I recently decided that the long game Google is playing is absolutely brilliant. They are being understated about it but doing exactly what business strategists talk about when they describe the long game as the one to play.
Rather than making a bunch of sweeping pronouncements, struggling to jam together a bunch of random crap in a big bang release, and then worry about staying involved in a feature race with a competitor, Google is continually experimenting with new functionality, rolling it out broadly in a fully integrated fashion on a continuous basis, and providing it as a core part of an ever expanding thing that is getting more and more useful by the week.
By now I hope you are saying something like “What the fuck is he talking about – Facebook is crushing Google+” or something like that. Yeah, whatever. That’s why it’s the long game that they are playing.
Here are some examples.
I live in Gmail. Suddenly, I found this magical thing called Circles to be useful. When I get behind on my email, I simply go through a few of the circles (Foundry, Foundry Ents) and clear the email from my partners, my assistant Kelly, and the CEOs I work with. I have persistent chat up – I find that 80% of my chats now go through Gchat (the other 20% are Skype, and they are almost always requested by someone else.) And now that there are Hangouts integrated, many of these are videos.
Google Voice is my Phone Number. I used to have desktop phones. I don’t anymore – I have a Google voice # and an iPhone. I give everyone my Google voice #. It works everywhere. I never think about what phone I’m using anymore. And I do many calls via the computer.
Google Hangouts is my new Calendar Invite. I hate the telephone. Hate hate hate. But I don’t mind chat. And I don’t mind a Google Hangout / video call. All of a sudden I can make invites from Google Calendar that are Hangout invites. Done – every phone call / conference call is now a Hangout.
I live in Chrome. I have several computers. I never notice the difference between them. I’m downstairs at my place in Keystone right now on my Macbook Air. When I go up into my office, I’ll be on my treadputer with a different Macbook Air (an older one) connected to a 27″ monitor. I switch regularly between the two throughout the day and don’t even notice.
Now you are thinking “Ok Brad, but other than the Hangouts, Circles within email, and Hangouts within Calendar, what are you using Google+ for?” Just those three things have completely changed my workflow massively for the better. And they just showed up for me one day – I didn’t have to do anything.
In 2012 I used all the normal Google+ stuff. I reposted content there. I followed people. I occasionally chatted, commented, or +1ed. Facebook-like features. But I didn’t care that much about that stuff – yet.
All of a sudden I’ve got Communities. I’ve got Events. I’ve got Pages. And Hangouts, and Circles integrats seamlessly with each of these things. And they are nicely integrated with Gmail and Calendar. And suddenly I can do On Air Hangouts. And, I can record them automatically and save them to my Youtube channel. Keep playing for another few years, user by user, company by company, integrated feature by integrated feature.
Yeah, it drives me batshit that Google still things I’m firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com. Some day they’ll integrate these. And as I approach 25,000 contacts, I’ll probably start bitching about how this limit is ridiculous, just like I did at 10,000. But I can deal with all of that.
Google – thanks for playing the long game here. I wish more companies, especially other tech companies, did this especially when they have massive resources. Sure – some think they are playing the long game, but they are really playing the short game with a bunch of things that take a long time for them to get out the door. Different game.
I love apps that do one thing extraordinarily well and become part of what I use every day. Captio is one of these apps. And I have Dave Tisch to thank for turning me on to it about a year ago. Here’s how it happened.
I sent myself email reminders on my iPhone constantly. I hate paper and don’t carry any around with me. In general I don’t take notes (I have an excellent general purpose memory) but if I want to remember to do something specifically, I send myself a short email to do it when I have time. Then, as I grind through my inbox I do all of the quick tasks that have piled up during the day.
I was with Tisch and we were going through a bunch of things. He saw we typing on my iPhone each time I took a note. He noticed that I was opening up the iOS Mail app, clicking in the bottom on the new message button, typing bra and then selecting my name, clicking in the Subject field, typing a one liner to myself, and then clicking Send.
He said in his Tisch-like way “Why aren’t you using Captio” as though everyone on the planet used it. I said “what is it?” He handed me his phone and said “Try it – it does what you are trying to do but just fucking works – I use it all the time.” I tried it, gave him his phone back, downloaded Captio, and never looked back.
Now when I want to send myself a note, which I do 10 – 20 times a day, I open Capito, type whatever note I want, and hit send.
“Why aren’t you using Captio?” Now, if I could only just speak to Captio. Or maybe if Siri was a tiny bit smarter and (a) didn’t ask me which email address to use and then (b) didn’t ask me what I wanted the email to say my life would be complete.
I’ve tried to aggressively shift to video conferencing instead of audio conferencing for anything longer than a 15 minute call. I’m also giving a lot of talks around the world, especially on Startup Communities, so rather than travel and burn a day (or more), I’m doing 30 minute videoconferencing things remotely. And, as anyone who has ever asked me to speak to a class of students knows, I have a huge weakness for always saying yes to this so I’ve been doing this via videoconferencing as well.
After exploring a bunch of different options last year, I decided to use Skype everywhere since it was “good enough”, simpler, and portable. I equipped my desktops with HD cameras, took my MacBook Air on the road, and didn’t look back, until recently.
I noticed that twice last week I had horrible Skype connections. One was a US call and one was for a 30 minute presentation to a group of about 200 people in Barcelona at the Silicon Valley Comes to Barcelona event. In the US case I was using my Verizon 4G MiFi, in the Barcelona case I was tethered to my AT&T iPhone.
Skype completely failed in each case. Audio worked but we couldn’t get a sustained video connection. Each time we tried Google Hangouts as a backup. It worked flawlessly on exactly the same connection.
This was a classic A/B test. Yesterday, when I was on a Skype three way call, where one of the callers kept freezing and the other kept getting higher resolution focus, all I could think was “I wish we were on Google Hangouts.” After talking to a friend at Google who said that Hangouts is now pervasive at Google, I’m going to try it more frequently.
Any feedback from any of you about performance / quality of Skype vs. Google Hangouts?
On day two of my 14 day visit to Miami Beach, I realized that the hotel WiFi at the W Hotel was not going to work for me. Once again I was at a Starwood Hotel, which I love, except for the abysmal WiFi and WiFi policies. In this case, performance of WiFi in my room sucked and the cost was $15 / device / day. Upon connecting my computer and Amy’s computer, I realized I was paying $30 / day for shitty WiFi. Nope – that doesn’t work for me.
I tried my iPhone 3G tethering. AT&T service was as bad as the WiFi – I literally couldn’t get a consistent signal in the room. I wasn’t desperate yet, but I was definitely uncomfortable. Amy was annoyed, as in “Brad, why doesn’t this shitty technology work?” and all the Skype calls I had set up looked like they might be a bust.
I had my IT guy Ross overnight me a Verizon 4G MiFi. It arrived the morning of day three and I never looked back. I plugged the MiFi into the wall, pressed the On button, connected each device, and never thought about Internet access again for the remaining twelve days. When I went down to the pool, where nothing worked at all, including the hotel WiFi, I sat for hours with my MiFi happily connected. Performance was great – I didn’t even notice that I wasn’t on a 50MB/sec connection.
I only ran into one edge case that was annoyingly bizarre. The MiFi allows five devices to connect simultaneously. But guess what – the two of us had six devices. Two Macs, two iPads, and two iPhones. The first time we realized this after getting weird “can’t connect” errors we each burst out laughing – c’mon, six WiFi devices in one room between two people? However, when you step back and think about it, the idea that there might be 10, or 20, or 50 in a few years is not beyond the realm of possibility.
So – instead of paying Starwood $180 / day for shitty WiFi, I ended up paying Verizon whatever my monthly fee is for excellent MiFi. Verizon wins this time. Starwood – you keep bumming me out with your WiFi policy. I’m already paying a ridiculous premium for your high end hotel – why not toss in the WiFi like the Marriott does. Or, at least get it to work.
I’ve recently discovered two awesome tools for helping me manage my contacts in Google Apps. One is a TechStars Boulder company called Rainmaker and the other is a Paris-based company called Kwaga that has an app called WriteThat.Name.
I’ve got a large address book in Gmail (> 11,000 contacts). I get numerous new inbound contacts on a regular basis from people reaching out to me and Google automatically puts their email address in Google Contacts, which is cool. However, it doesn’t put any additional info – either from the email body (which often has contact info in it) or from other sources like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook – which often has a lot more contact info, including a photo.
Let’s start with WriteThat.Name. Once you tie it to you Google account, it automatically scans emails, parses out any contact info it finds, and automagically adds it to the contact record. I’ve been looking for this for a very long time (over a decade) – I’ve never understood why Microsoft didn’t build this into Outlook. Sure – there have been plenty of plug-ins along the way, but nothing that “just worked” invisibly in the background. WriteThat.Name does – beautifully. After using it for a week for free I paid for it. I met the CEO Philippe Laval at lunch the other day in Paris and gave him a big hug. Do yourself a favor – try it.
The next app is Rainmaker. This is from one of the TechStars Boulder teams from this year that is just killing it. You connect it up to your social networks and your Google account. You can then selectively, or in bulk, “make it rain” on your contacts where Rainmaker will use all the magic it can to enhance your existing contacts using whatever information it can find. Like WriteThat.Name, this information is going directly into your Contact database, enhancing it dramatically.
While there is a lot more that can be done, both of these applications make good on the promise of “my computer being smarter than me.” I find that I spend almost no time in my Contacts entering data and updating it any more. All the stuff I need is there – all the time – and I can call, email, IM, chat, txt, or whatever I want without having to search around for the info.
One last hint – before you crank up any program that you give write access to your Google App data, make sure you use Spanning Backup to backup your Google Contacts, Calendar, and Docs data (we are investors in Spanning Cloud Apps, the company that does Spanning Backup.) While I’ve had no issues with either Rainmaker or WriteThat.Name, better safe than sorry!
I did eventually solve my Paris smart phone problem. Here’s what I did.
But none of it matters. Because after two weeks without a smart phone, I simply don’t give a shit anymore. In general, I hate the phone and try to stay off of it. I spend my time in email, IM, and Skype when I’m in front of my computer, which is a lot. However, when I’m wandering around between things, I’ve actually started to realize the joy of looking around and noticing all of the other humans staring at the little pieces of glass they are holding in their hands. During dinner at a restaurant, I’m enjoying the idea that I’m unreachable while I shower 100% of my attention on my beloved and anyone else I’m dining with. And, when I go to the bathroom in a restaurant, I’m actually enjoying the notion that I’m not going to return to the table distracted by the emails I’ve scanned while doing my business.
Basically, except for Google Maps, I haven’t missed the phone one bit the past two weeks. And, given that I haven’t had Google Maps, I’ve gotten to wander aimlessly around a few times, using the old fashioned approach of asking for directions. Each time, I’ve ended up where I needed to be pretty close to when I was supposed to be there. Refreshing, retro, interesting – call it whatever you want – but even for this directionally impaired American it worked out ok.
I now have 3G access again everywhere I go. But I don’t really care. I’m hardly using it (at least I haven’t the past few days). I’m going to start turning off my phone at meals completely and see how that goes for a while. Or maybe I’ll just leave it in the apartment since I’m with the only person (Amy) I want to be talking to anyway.
I learned a lot from this experience. But most importantly, I once again learned the value of thinking about the problem differently and challenging a key assumption. Do I really need my phone with me and email available all of the time? Clearly not.
I’m going for a run now in the rain in Paris. Without my phone. See y’all in a while.
Finally I solved my Paris Internet Mobile 3G SIM cell phone nightmare poke my eyes out scream at my phone problem. It was remarkably easy, once I knew the magic trick, which I found on the site Pay as you go sim with data wiki (thanks Toby Ruckert – lunch is on me tomorrow.)
Here are the steps (as of 7/6/11) for an unlocked Android phone and a Gmail user.
1. Go to an Orange store. Ask for a Mobicarte. Do not explain anything. Do not show them your cell phone. Just buy a Mobicarte (it’s a SIM card that is Orange’s prepaid plan.) It’ll cost 9€. Then get some additional credits – I got €25 just because I never want to have to go to the Orange store again.
2. Go home and find yourself a safe place to do phone surgery.
3. Insert the SIM card into your phone and turn it on.
4. “Recharge” your phone. Mobicarte comes with 5€ but you need at least 12€ to activate Internet Max. It’s easy to recharge (since you bought the extra 25€). Go to the phone dialer and type #124*phone_number# where phone_number = the magic phone number on the Evoucher Web Services form they give you when you buy the extra credits.
5. Now you want to follow the instructions for Internet Max on the wiki I referred to earlier. The menu options had changed from the wiki – here are the ones I had.
6. Dial #123#
7. You get a startup menu showing the credit on your prepaid account. You need enough credit on your account to buy the data plan.
8. Choose 2=Menu
9. Choose 4=Vos bons plans
10. Choose 3=Votre multimedia
11. Choose 4=Option Internet Max
12. Now you get a description, choose 1=Suite
13. Then choose 1=Souscrire (Subscribe).
14. Finally, choose 1=Valider (Confirm).
15. Turn off your phone and wait a couple of hours. The instructions say two days, but everything seemed to be working fine about an hour later. Scream with delight as you surf the Internet from your phone while watching your email stream in.
16. To figure out your phone number, go to your SMS app. You’ll have a little txt that says something like “Bienvenue chez Orange, votre numero mobicarte est le your_phone_number” where your_phone_number will start with 06. To have someone call you from Skype, they merely type +336 and then the rest of the number. I have no idea how much phone calls actually cost, but I do know that I have free unlimited Internet for the month.
Now, these instructions are for an Android phone with Gmail. If you have an iPhone, or something else, I have no clue if this will work for you. And no, Google Voice will not work in France.
And then our hero’s glasses broke. At this point the meltdown was complete, and our hero crawled into bed for a two hour nap in an effort to let his soul catch up with him.
I’m on day three of trying to get my Google Nexus S to work with 3G without costing me $17 / minute. Since I use Google Voice for my phone number (and I make almost all of my phone calls on my laptop using Google Voice or Skype) I only need data service. Based on all the feedback I got when I was in the US, this seemed easy. “Just get a pre-paid SIM card from any of the telecom providers when you get there, slap it in, and it’ll work fine” or some varient of that was the suggestion.
Day 1: When Amy and I got here, we wandered down Rue de Courcelles to find the Monoprix and buy some food, soap, shampoo, and tea. Along the way we passed an Orange store and an SFR store. Voila, I thought, in one of the only French words that I know, this will be easy. We stopped in the Orange store first. After waiting 15 minutes, the nice person listened to Amy’s request for “SIM with unlimited data” in French and said something like “you can get that on the Orange store on the Champs-Élysées.” The nice man even tore a page out of a brochure that had a picture of an Android tablet on it and scribbled a few things on the page. Being intrepid and still having a little energy, we crossed the street to the SFR store. We waited another 15 minutes. This time, we didn’t get nearly as far – the response was simply “go to the Champs-Élysées store – we don’t have technicians here.” We went to the Monoprix, successfully bought some food, soap, shampoo, and tea, at which point I had a mini-meltdown and we went back to the apartment to take a nap.
Day 2: We dutifully followed directions and went to the Champs-Élysées Orange store. When we asked for “SIM with unlimited data” we were met with an indignant response. Amy then tried to ask “can we get anything with data for this phone” – then showed my Nexus S – and the woman helping us said “no”, shook her head, and kind of made that “move along” gesture with her hands. We walked a block down to the SFR store and put our name on the waiting list. I observed that there were about 20 people before us on the list and after waiting 15 minutes there were still about 20 people in front of us on the list. #fail – we bailed and went to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant near the Four Seasons where we had a lot of carbohydrates.
Day 3: I was determined to have success today. I went for a nice run in the Parc Monceau, went out and got a pizza with Amy, and then marched over to the Champs-Élysées. I had gotten an email from a friend saying “punt on Orange and SFR – just go to the Virgin Megastore – they’ll take care of you.” The Virgin Megastore is across the street from the SFR store, has a really nice entrance, a very imposing guard, and a little Virgin Mobile store to the right of the entrance. Amy tried again – she was getting better as asking for a “prepaid SIM card with Internet / 3G data” in French. The woman at the Virgin Mobile store looked directly at me like the ugly American I am and said in English “we don’t sell that here.” Amy tried again, asking is there some version of this that they sell? Again, she looked at me and this time simply said “no”. Stymied, we tried the SFR store. This time “prepaid SIM card with Internet / 3G data” generated a flurry of activity. After about 30 minutes, we successfully procured two SIMs (one for each phone) and a €15 credit for each. We were sent home with the instructions to activate the SIM from the Web being told that it was faster and cheaper. Home we went, in went the new SIM into my Nexus S, and onto the Web I went to visit the sfr.fr site. Of course, the sfr.fr site was incomprehensible to me. I wasn’t able to login, I wasn’t able to change my password, I wasn’t able to activate my SIM, and I wasn’t able to cure cancer.
Then my glasses broke.
Thanks for all the cell phone suggestions for my europe trip this summer. Of course, shortly after I wrote the post, Apple came out with an unlocked version of the iPhone 4 (which just showed up in my office) rendering many of the options (and presumably some of the companies) either obsolete or unnecessary.
However, I decided to take a different approach. I’m going to give the Nexus S another try. I’ve been using it since Friday and the most recent version is awesome. Almost all of the iPhone apps I rely on are available on Android and since I’m a Google Apps + Google Voice user, the integration is much nicer. So we’ll see how that goes.
In the mean time, I do need a recommendation for a SIM in Paris and in Tuscany. What’s the best local provider in each place?