Bradley Horowitz at The Next Web 09 courtesy of
|After Jeff Jarvis had his take on Google we had somebody from the inside – Bradley Horowitz.Horowitz was the man who advised Yahoo to buy Flickr and after redefining his role there he made them acquire Delicious. Previously he had formed Virage (video categorization engine) and sold it to Autonomy after dropping out of his degree at MIT Medialab where he worked on image categorisation technologies.|
It was no wonder with his background that metadata, context and categorisation formed an underlying theme to this talk. It was good to see these foundational elements of online user experience given the focus they deserve.
Moore’s law and the aim of Google
He stated that Google’s main perspective on technology was thinking big as a means of innovation. With this philosophy they have changed the world as we know it and their impact is massive. As silicon valley realised Moore’s law to be true, Google imagined a world where bandwidth, size and storage was not a problem. In doing so they created applications such as GMail.
Google’s aim is to provide excellent search to enable users to store and find everything. It is to solve one of the world’s biggest problems -that of information overload, its loss and its retrieval.
Ubicomp is here
He told of everyday devices that have achieved ubiquity – that can now record your entire life digitally. Ubiquity is here. The mobile phone is everywhere.
The problem as he saw it was that you can record everything but you don’t get another life to review it all. The challenge is harvesting metadata and defining context to give meaning to what we do.
So how do you use the information to a useful end? Horowitz (and Google) knows that the big problem is that we are dying from the start. Moments evaporate from the start. This fact drives Google to be fast. Latency is a key focus because time is of the essence. By being fast they give back the time to the world by speed of its services.
Be aware of our human condition
He told of, meditation, sleep, walking the dog that gives him perspective. A very pertinent point was that technology needs to adapt and enhance the human life. He asked how do we solve attention management? The moments of life that need revisiting amongst the morass of spam and junk we all wade through.
A key observation was that metadata is as important as the data itself. Even from biosignals. He stated that Wetware (using people’s minds and bodies as systems) will be as important as software or hardware.
Audience at The Next Web 09 courtesy of DailyM
Image understanding is an amazingly complex process if you expect to use machines to do this. Using humans enables it to be easy to create understanding around cognition of imagery. People can do this easily to give meaning to images and Flickr shows that by a simple means to ensure that the people can tag easily.
Though I appreciate his statement I feel we have along way to go before the wisdom of crowds can be used effectively here.
He stressed that a few dedicated curators can create value for the majority. Indeed, the collective intelligence and interestingness creates a relevance metric that goes beyond just page rank algorythmns. We see this in blogs, twitter streams and facebook communities but the curators still control the quality. That is an important point I feel, and one that Google obviously realises.
Then he briefly showed a mental model that reflected the Google approach to data, starting at signal and working upwards.
From a signal you may reach the pathway to enlightenment I guess, but it certainly has a clarity to it that is admirable.
The web is broken
What we did get from this talk was a refreshing personal perspective on the world of technology and how it affects us. He iterated that the conference had talked a lot about the current web, Twitter and real time search but he urged us to think about the real future.
In closing Horowitz stated how the browser is a bad model. It is not the optimal system to deliver the next web, the model is terribly broken, latency, code storage and caching are all frailties that have consumed countless lifetimes of development time.
He asked us to think about the ‘what if’ scenarios, take the long view and where the world is trending. Solving the problems that we expect to have tomorrow.
Create space in life
In many ways when somebody talks from Google you know they will not divulge what they do exactly, or certainly not their next step. They, like other successful companies, keep their products shrouded in mystery (ironic in this culture of open source and collaborative working don’t you think?).
With a slight nod to those who were wanting to know the next move he stated it will be Google Voice. A way of leveraging voicemail into the digital life and Gmail.
Closing the circle completely, he asked ‘how much do you want to invite tech into your life?’. He reminded us to create space in our lives.
That coming from Google was a surprise – or was it really? Their aim after all, is to make our lives easier to manage in the information age. Surely that can only be a good thing.