Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

It’s time to kill Twitter and Facebook

Hats off to Michael Arrington from Techcrunch for his awesome interview with the Google Wave team.

You can find video and a transcript of this interview at Techcrunch.com but I wanted to take a minute and hit the highlights here.

My favorite moment comes toward the end of the interview when Michael asks them if they’re building “a Twitter-killer.”

He pitches it like a joke, but the question is dead serious, and the reaction is priceless.

Google VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra actually shakes his head and says, “Michael, Michael, Michael…”

Arrington doesn’t need my praise, but when a company VP looks over and gives you the gritted teeth hate smile, you know you’ve done something right. Well done, sir.

Arrington’s question goes straight to the heart of people’s fears about Google Wave, but the team insists that they love Twitter and Facebook. They want to position Google Wave as a companion for and an enhancement to existing services, as if the idea of competition had never crossed their minds.

But there’s a subtext here that most people are going to miss. When tech journalists ask companies, “Are you going to kill Twitter and Facebook?” that’s not a question — that’s a request.

It takes the form of a question but what they’re really saying is: Please kill Twitter! Please kill Facebook! Give us something better. Give us something we can control.

Twitter and Facebook have become so popular they’re almost useless. These services have created a whole new category of friendship, a new kind of social obligation that reaches across work and personal boundaries.

I may like my co-workers and enjoy their company, but I don’t really want to read status updates every time their children do something cute. I’ve got a limited amount of time at work and at home, and once you exceed a certain number of contacts, keeping up with Facebook and Twitter can become a full-time job.

I like to keep up with our company Web guru. He shares links that give me column ideas and dispenses all kinds of useful advice. But I don’t necessarily care about how cute his dogs are or what he thinks about Obama’s politics.

But once you add someone on Twitter or Facebook, you get the whole package. People who add me may enjoy reading technology links and reviews of video games, but they don’t necessarily need to read rants about the Gold Standard or snippits from the novel I’ve been writing since 1995.

People who enjoy my work probably don’t give a damn about my personal life and people who know me personally may not give a damn about my work.

Facebook updates from my editor may be a big deal from 8 to 5, but once he hits the golf course, I stop worrying about him and (I hope) he stops worrying about me.

The work/play distinction is hard enough, but how do you decide which friends are relevant to your daily life and which ones are only relevant in the week leading up to a class reunion?

How about the drunk guy who liked my column about Grand Theft Auto and the girl I flirted with because I clicked the wrong name in a chat window?

Is it safe to unfriend these people or am I stuck with them forever, plowing through maudlin text alerts and awkward family photos when all I really want is to see where my co-workers are headed for lunch?

Tech experts are begging Google to kill these services because they know there’s got to be a better way. Give me a way to segregate my work and my home life online. Let me keep high school classmates in my heart and in my rolodex without having to follow their every move. And let me step quietly away from social mistakes without having to explain myself.

It’s 2009 guys. We should have figured this out by now.

Written by Michael B. Duff

June 12, 2009 at 14:13

9 Responses

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  1. Good post.

    Never been a fan of Twitter, and I don’t expect it to stay around long, despite everyone from Fox Sports to politicians and mega churches now offering twitter feed options.

    There was a blog post on Yahoo Tech! this week that cited some interesting numbers from a recent Twitter user (non-user?) study:


    On Facebook, the customizable filters they introduced for main page feeds and content privacy have been helpful improvements for dealing with some of the issues you wrote about. Even so, I’ve already had several friends already quit Facebook to move on to something else. These are the same friends who were on Friendster before they moved to Xanga before getting a MySpace page that they later abandoned for FB.

    I think fruit flies and social media-sites must have about the same life expectancy.


    June 12, 2009 at 16:18

  2. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of Twitter, it just needs better filtering.

    There are 3rd party apps that help, but I think tagging and filtering should be part of the core product.

    (Or the core of a better product…)

    Michael Duff

    June 12, 2009 at 17:28

  3. Facebook did add the “list” feature, though, to control who gets to see what, customized privacy, and the like. Facebook’s downfall, if anything, will be privacy breaches due to the intrinsic nature of their goddamned apps.

    Scott K

    June 12, 2009 at 18:37

  4. I think it is okay to delete friends. I have people want to add me as a friend that I have not seen since high school and as far as I know they could be child molesters. I have only a handful of friends. It seems to be a game of “how many friends can I have”. Some over a 1000 friends. No body has a 1000 friends that you share your life with.


    June 13, 2009 at 08:15

  5. Let me guess. You can’t say “shut up”?


    July 2, 2009 at 20:37

  6. Okay Duff, So if I recall correctly you were hailing Google wave sometime in the past as the be and end all. I have been using the Preview for a few days now and I can definitely tell you I have a love hate relationship going on. I cannot understand how something so incomplete and lacking in features, not to mention slow as molasses, could ever have garnered the press it was getting back then, let alone today. The concept of Wave is sound, though I think at this point the development is still many months or possibly even years off from being usable, dependable enough for what it is intended. The hope, I assume is that developers were allowed in to shore up all of the problems it currently has. I would like to see Wave make it, but I am getting that familiar Google Labs feeling about this.More than likely a 3rd party developer has already created something like this but better. So just like Google Docs, which was created by Writely, and the abandoning of Google video player and format for YouTube, I see them purchasing a solution after this fails.


    November 12, 2009 at 11:47

  7. I’ve had the same reaction to Google Wave. It SHOULD be so good, but it feels wrong.

    The first mistake I and others made was to compare this product in any way to Twitter and Facebook.

    Google Wave is a collaboration tool, primarily for business, designed to improve and replace e-mail.

    It’s not really fair to judge speed and responsiveness in a beta release like this, but it makes the product feel sluggish and unreliable.

    Also, the flow of the conversations don’t feel as smooth as I thought they would. I can’t put my finger on it, but something about the way Waves look and feel is off-putting to me.

    I love the idea of Wave, but some crucial bit of interface magic is missing.

    Michael Duff

    November 12, 2009 at 11:54

  8. I know I may take some flak for this, but I think Google is making a big mistake Open Sourcing this. That means that the LDC is now going to be spread out over years instead of months. There is way too much in-fighting and project splintering in Open Source for anything tangible to be created quickly. (Too many cooks in the kitchen). Also at this point, Google Wave is nothing more than a fancy white board with extensibility. And there are already good “pay for” enterprise “off the shelf” solutions in that market. They need to get a handle on it, IMHO, by integrating the other Google services like Gmail, Calendar and Docs. That way Wave takes on a Control Panel aspect with collaborative white board and social(or corporate) networking extensibility. Why would I create a Doc inside a wave when Google Docs already does a better job of this (and its already collaborative – not to mention publish-able to the web)? Why do I need anything more than a group IM or white board to collaborate with my co-workers? Can’t I just use Go To Meeting? Why do I need twitty bots when Twitter is so easy to utilize anyway? There is definitely an identity crisis going on here. Though I think they can still save it, if they think sensibly.


    November 12, 2009 at 12:26

  9. Okay, I am going to give my final official word on this. I just took the Google Wave Survey and by the looks of the questions, Google has absolutely no idea what Wave is supposed to be. Why is that important? That means that development by third parties is up in the air and may never get the chance to hit the ground running. If Google does know what the core purpose of Wave is, how will anyone else? So what will happen is, DEVs will just waste their time with plug-ins and bots and trivial versions of other people’s plug-ins and bots ad infinitum ad nauseam. That is exactly what happens in Open Source. The only way to save this is to pull the plug and go in house. I seriously doubt this will ever be released unless someone has that eureka moment, and soon. Not impossible, but I am wondering why I should waste any of my own time on this. I mean doesn’t Plaxo and similar services cover the aggregate social networking angle already? Don’t “pay for” whiteboards and desktop sharing collaboration sites already do a better job? Doesn’t Google Docs, and the upcoming Windows Live/MS Office Live, do a better job with document sharing and collaboration and publishing? Doesn’t IM already work pretty good? Doesn’t email get the job done? Don’t Universities already use newsgroups with great success? The problem here is that Google isn’t just trying to reinvent email. They are trying to reinvent the whole darn internet. This uncertainty goes against everything that system developers are taught. And I am very surprised and shocked to see Google go down this path. Though I am more than sure the end result will be to quietly cast it off to the Open Source and community and slowly remove their name from it, instead of outright axing it. What an utter disappointment. Somebody talk me down.


    November 14, 2009 at 07:23

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