Just because Google can track your friends doesn’t make it valuable

I have an interest in new technology. I can get fascinated by the things it can bring us. I get even more enthusiastic when technology can be applied in daily life to improve things. At the same time I’m not a big fan of technology being pushed without intent. We need people to develop without intent other than curiosity or a desire to break barriers. I just get more excited with First Use. The First Use of a new technology isn’t defined by the technology itself. It is defined by the user who may or may not decide to incorporate this technology in his daily life. Breaking up existing patterns to build new ones. First Use is the crucial test for any technology. It answers the following question:

Is a user willing to put in the effort to learn about this new technology and incorporate it in his current habits?

The answer in any case is that willingness is related to either solving a problem or creating another type of value for the user. If this isn’t obvious from the start, then the user is not committed to put in the effort of integrating this technology into his life. Note that this isn’t necessarily related to design or usability or complexity. It helps if your development scores well on those factors. Bottom line however is whether or not the user conceives enough value to put the effort into it.

Early adopters tend to make the mistake that since they adopt quickly the rest of the world will follow. This is an entirely wrong assumption. They confuse passion for technology with the value being delivered by the new technology. There are lots of technologies developments that I love but rarely if ever use. These technologies simply do not pass my First Use experience.  For that very reason I do not consider myself an early adopter. I am interested in technology, but I am more fascinated by its use.

Answering the First Use question is something developers rarely address. It is a hard and painful process that draws away energy from the development process itself. It might even lead to the insight that there isn’t any value to be discovered making the technological effort useless. Not knowing the answer to First Use does not make any development useless. But not addressing the question makes the effort of development less effective. Sometimes you just have to let your users define the value of your developments. It’s a tactic used often by companies like Google (since they have near unlimited resources and capabilities to just try things out).

I was thinking about that when I saw the announcement of Google Lattitude, reviewed here by the WSJ. The idea of location based services is quite old, but combining it with a social aspect has revived the technology and now we see many examples of such services pop up. Chris Messina wrote a good post on this very topic, what if location was available everywhere?

Technology wise Google Lattitude looks great. In terms of First Use there are many questions that remain to be answered. If we move past the coolness factor (“Wow, I can see where Joe hangs out”) it becomes more difficult to envision using this in your daily life. Early adaptors will tell you it’s cool because yo get to see where your friends hang out and meet up easily. It will help you to get great retail discounts when you pass a store and are willing to tell them you are hanging out there. It is great to be able to automatically inform anyone willing to listen on your social networks where you are right now.  And so on.

I may be wrong, but not one of these advantages will overcome the barriers the technology brings right now to ask me to change my habits. In other words, there is no compelling reason for me to start using it. No problem is solved or real value created. Does that mean the technology is useless? Hard to say. This is a typical example where the market will decide if the technology has use. We will need to have an ecology of services in which location is used as one of the default inputs. One thing is for sure. Real revenues need to back up developments like this. Let’s hope we will not enter yet another free advertisement based ecology here. Instead focus on real user value and get users to pay for that. It will do the technology and the user value a lot of good. Otherwise this technology is bound to become yet another advertisement trap.


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8 Responses to Just because Google can track your friends doesn’t make it valuable

  1. Pingback: George Orwell Would be Proud | Mark Evans

  2. Greg says:

    Sorry for this comment to be slightly OT, but on the discussion of ‘first use’, I’d argue that Twitter might have the same issues the further it aims beyond the early adopters.

    I only used it because I’m the sort of person who’s interested in the latest thing. I couldn’t really see a use for it. Microblogging didn’t appeal (or appear to have a point), neither did status updates (I get that with Facebook).

    However, after sticking with it (sometimes going weeks without tweeting) I’m now strangely hooked.

    However, I can’t see the mainstream (eg. my wife, family and the majority of my friends – those on Facebook) finding a use for Twitter until they’ve experienced it over the course of months (as I have). Unlike me, I can’t see them taking the initial gamble.

    When I first read about Latitude I had the same thoughts. However, I’m going to sign up and enable it in any case. Had I’d not done the same with Twitter I wouldn’t be using it now.

    I agree with you that Latitude lacks the first use appeal.

  3. @Greg First use is what makes crossing the chasm to mainstream is so difficult.
    I personally feel that Twitter has a good chance of making it. The reason for it is that the adoption takes little energy, so the chance that someone tries it is quite high. For localization services this will not be the case. You will need more technological experience, worry about privacy, spam, whatever. And then the value isn’t defined up front. So the barrier to start is higher.

  4. I kind of agree with you here. But, I think the features actually could be useful. Useful in a way that any social network is useful.

    I’m just not sure Google is the one to push this forward. Their lack of a real social network makes this just another piece of Google floating around the tubes. I think that is what slows any real adoption of it right now. My thoughts in more detail: http://bit.ly/23mO6S

  5. @Hi Wallace. I guess useful is what First Use is all about 😉 I’d be interested to hear what aspects of it you would find useful?
    I’m pretty sure Google’s strategy would be to get this as widespread as possible, linking it to all the major social networks (if they would allow it).

  6. Bertil Hatt says:

    Although I agree with you, I’m assuming the more social technologies that we have seen lately focus on a different aspect: how relevant is a service if only a distant (geeky) relative uses them? — cf. Ville Saarakoswki’s PhD thesis on why SMS was a terrible idea (compared to Japanese mobile e-mail) because it’s per-use cost limited it to a closed circle.

    All technologies have a core of early adopter: the developpers and their friends. The challenge is more to leave that niche by using weak ties than to spring spontaneously elsewhere.

  7. @Bertil yes, crossing the chasm is a difficult thing to do.

  8. Pingback: Giving ourselves enough Latitude to hang ourselves with — Shooting at Bubbles

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