Getting Emotional with Steve

Steve,

I am another Eve, another person forever changed by taking a bite of your rainbow apple. As is the case with most addicts, my first bite was very strongly influenced by the addiction of others. “Taste it, Roba,” they would say. “It makes the world so much more beautiful.”

At first, I resisted. The other fruits were not as beautiful nor as seductive as your concoction, but they were certainly easier on the pocket, more common, more accepted. They were safe. But I was never one for safety, I guess you can say.

I bit into your fruit. I saw the rainbow.

Steve, you gave me the rainbow.

A prism of colors. Joy. Oh, my god. For that, I owe you forever, whether we stay in Heaven or not.

My heart palpitates and my I go all doe-eyed even in the presence of your creations. I have, after all, spent the past ten years crushing on your products. The kind of glorious crush where I feel like passing out when surrounded by a certain amount of beautiful and perfect pieces of machinery. The kind of corporeal crush where I want to run the tips of my fingers over the cold metal and soft plastic and get bedazzled by the faery-style white light. The kind of crush where I want to put an Apple laptop inside a lucite case and place it lovingly on my coffee table as some sort of ultra-modern readymade sculpture for the sole purpose my visual enjoyment.

As is the case with other addicts, my obsession with beauty and perfection saw me seeking others who also had a sense of appreciation for things as absurd as the scent of a perfectly-created MacBook Pro. Steve, you blinded me. My collection of Apple gadgets could feed a family of 5 for a year in the third world country in which I live. Steve, I look at other fruits in vain, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Steve, my friends are a bunch of dreamy designers, artists, and superheroes, wielding shiny, silver weapons. I can’t help it. I am naturally attracted to other addicts. I can smell them a mile away.

You have influenced my life, the way I work, the way I design, the way I think. Dear Steve, you have given me the elixir of life. You have given me simplicity. You have given me dependability. You have given me a tool of joy.

I don’t know how your decision to purge the apple out of your system will affect our addictions. Do we all need to start detoxing? Is the rainbow going to fade out slowly and then die? Is it time to get an Apple tattoo?

I don’t have the answers yet. But I see my need for rehab.

Steve, I will miss you.

Another Social Google Attempt: Google+

Google+ is a hot topic at the moment. Launched by invitation only towards the end of June, the social layer turns the search engine and all other Google products into one giant social network.

Gone is the familiar gray strip at the top of every Google-related page. In its place is a black bar with several options for accessing Google+, viewing activity notifications, and sharing content. Content shared with you is displayed in a stream, very much like that of Facebook and Twitter. Other Google services are also integrated in the interface. Google’s +1 button, which is similar to the ubiquitous Facebook “Like”, is heavily present. When you upload pictures to Google+, they do not just go to Picasa, they also reside on Google+.

The most interesting difference though between today’s popular social networks and Google+ is the latter’s friendship model, called Circles. “Today’s web is about people,” says Vic Gundotra, the man behind the product. “To organize the world’s data, you have to understand people. We think connecting with other people is a basic human need. We do it all the time in real life, but our online tools are rigid. They force us into buckets — or into being completely public. Real life sharing is nuanced and rich. It has been hard to get that into software”.

Indeed, Google+ tackles human relationships using an approach that is unique and innovative. Discovering people and adding them to circles is a fun experience; a user drag-and-drops his or her contacts into different social circles for friends, family, classmates, co-workers and other custom groups. With animations and whimsical touches, Circles looks more like an Apple software than the typically undesigned Google application. The very essence of sharing on Circles is also different. You selectively choose from your circles to share an item, but for the item to make it into the main stream, the people you are sharing with also need to selectively choose to share back. While the model allows for great privacy, it comes at a cost for complexity, virality, and discovery. Only time will tell if Google’s slight reinvention of the friendship wheel will be successful or not.

Yet, it isn’t necessarily social sharing and circles that keeps bringing the users back. “Hangouts” is a group chat feature on Google+. Reminiscent of the early days of the Internet, when webcams were still a commodity, you can video chat with up to 10 people. Amusingly enough, it is still as pixelated and as unsynchronized as it was in 1999. The ability to watch YouTube videos with others while on Hangouts seems to be the only taste of 2011. However, Facebook recently announced a partnership with Skype, and will probably soon introduce a similar feature.

Another addition to Google+ is “Sparks”, a built-in recommendation engine for finding interesting content. With RSS readers losing their edge in the age of social content discovery, Sparks is a collection of articles, videos, photos and other content grouped by interest. The system is very much algorithmic, which often results in content that isn’t particularly interesting.

Google is calling Google+ a “project”, which means that what we’re seeing today is no where near the final product. In fact, the company says it will undergo many changes to fix problems and introduce features. Still, less than two weeks into the invitation-only launch, Google+ somehow already has more than 10 million members. That’s not near Facebook’s 750 million, but it is Google after all.

Google+: 10 million down, 740 million to go.

[Originally published in Venture Magazine, July 2011. Written by Roba Al-Assi]

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