Yahoo and Google become OpenID providers

Post Image The OpenID single sign-on project got a major boost this week when Yahoo announced it would enable it’s 250 million users to use their Yahoo logins for authenticating at OpenID websites. And just yesterday, Google announced that Blogger accounts can now be used as OpenID logins. OpenID is definitely gaining momentum.

So what is OpenID?

OpenID eliminates the need for multiple usernames across different websites, simplifying your online experience.

You get to choose the OpenID Provider that best meets your needs and most importantly that you trust. At the same time, your OpenID can stay with you, no matter which Provider you move to. And best of all, the OpenID technology is not proprietary and is completely free.

It’s a really good idea, and works fairly well in practice. I think a major question new users will have is, which provider should I use?

See I think most users have a Yahoo account and a Google account, and many others. There are tons of sites that act as OpenID providers. Which one should you choose? How do you decide which to use as your provider?

I guess it wouldn’t matter if you could combine them somehow. I don’t know enough about OpenID to know if that’s possible. Anyone reading this have any idea?

Read: OpenID

Jaiku needs to do something quick!

Post ImageLike many others, I’ve noticed that Jaiku hasn’t been working correctly in recent weeks. It is slow, and the API has been really unreliable, as I noted on Sunday (on Twitter of course). You’ll recall that Google bought Jaiku back in October, and sadly, it hasn’t been the same since.

The main advantage (for me) that Jaiku had over Twitter was that it was incredibly reliable. I coded the "My Status" widget that appears on the right side of my blog to use Twitter originally, but switched to Jaiku after I realized how unreliable Twitter was. This week though, I switched back – because Jaiku is the unreliable one now.

Company founder Jyri posted a note yesterday, acknowledging the neglect and assuring us that good things are on the way. That’s a step in the right direction, and I’m glad the Jaiku team got some R&R over the holidays, but what if it’s too little, too late?

Here’s why Twitter works better for me:

  • There are way more people on Twitter, and it’s pretty easy to discover new people that might be interesting to follow.
  • Twitter’s mobile site is far better than Jaiku’s. I’ve always got Twitter Mobile open on my iPod touch, and it works great.
  • Twitter works with my cell phone. I’ve never been able to get Jaiku to work. Maybe it doesn’t like Canadian numbers or something.
  • Far more third party sites and utilities work with Twitter.
  • I much prefer the @username system that Twitter has over the "proper" comment system that Jaiku has.

I hope the Google/Jaiku team can make progress on Jaiku this year. It would be great for Twitter to have some solid competition (and no, Facebook doesn’t count).

How about you – do you use both? Which do you like better and why?

Read: Jaiku Blog

In The Crosshairs: Facebook

Post ImageThe tech industry really amazes me sometimes. Everyone knows that it moves fast, but I don’t think the average person realizes just how fast. The status quo can change overnight. I’m guessing Facebook knows this better than anyone or any company right now:

Google may have just come out of nowhere and checkmated Facebook in the social networking power struggle. MySpace and Six Apart will announce that they are joining Google’s OpenSocial initiative.

Here’s the big question – Will Facebook now be forced to join OpenSocial? Google says they are talking to “everyone.” This is a major strategic decision for Facebook, and they may have little choice but to join this coalition.

Essentially what Google is trying to do is make something like Facebook’s Platform available across the entire web. If you build an application for Facebook today, it only runs on Facebook. If you build an application for Google’s OpenSocial, it will run on any site that supports it – and so far, that’s almost every social networking site except Facebook.

Erick Schonfeld is absolutely right – the ball is in Facebook’s court now. They could handle this very well and come out on top, which is what I think they’ll do. My guess is that they will support OpenSocial eventually. Or they could handle it very poorly and screw up everything they’ve got going for them.

OpenSocial has been the hot topic for the last couple days, and there’s a ton of stuff up on TechMeme if you want to read more about it. This post from Dare Obasanjo will definitely make you stop and think, so make sure you read it:

In thinking about the Google OpenSocial Announcement I realized how much some of Google’s recent moves remind me of Microsoft of old [for some undeclared definition of old].

The five reasons Dare suggests all make sense to me. Still not sure what to make of that.

UPDATE: After thinking about this some more, it occurred to me that the headlines streaming across the web today would probably confuse the average Internet user. I mean, the average user probably uses both Google and Facebook in a (mostly) mutually exclusive way. Google is for search, Facebook is for wall posts. A headline like “Google vs. Facebook” would seem somewhat strange to that user. Or am I not giving the average user enough credit?

Read: TechCrunch

Facebook Day – $15 billion!

Post ImageTo my knowledge there is no "Facebook Day" but that seems like a fitting label for today. Until the company eventually goes public, today is probably the most important day in Facebook’s (incredibly short) history. Today Microsoft announced that it would pay $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook, which means:

The investment values the three-year-old Facebook, which will bring in about $150 million in revenue this year, at $15 billion.

“We are now stepping outside what is typically a business decision,” said Rob Enderle, the founder of the strategy concern Enderle Group. “This was almost personal. I wouldn’t want to be the executive that’s on the losing side at either firm.”

Yes, Facebook is officially worth $15 billion. I wrote in February that Facebook missed the boat by not selling to Yahoo, but also pointed out they’d get another shot. Turns out I was wrong on the first part, and right on the second. All of a sudden Mark Zuckerberg looks like a genius for saying "no thanks" to Yahoo’s paltry offer of $1 billion.

Microsoft and Google were said to be fighting over the deal to the very end, with Microsoft having the slight advantage thanks to a previous ad deal with Facebook. This deal is all about positioning – Microsoft couldn’t afford to let Google cozy up to Facebook’s growing network of eyeballs.

There’s a ton of commentary on this story in the blogosphere, so I won’t rehash that here, but there is one thing that seems odd to me: the amount. No doubt $240 million is a lot of money, but I was expecting an announcement in the billions today. Something more in line with Google’s purchase of YouTube or Microsoft’s purchase of aQuantive.

On the other hand, a smaller piece of a big pie is better than no pie at all.


Searching Wikipedia Sucks!

Post Image Have you tried searching Wikipedia lately? Don’t bother, because you probably won’t find what you’re looking for! I am continually amazed at how terrible the Wikipedia search results are. Here’s an example of what I mean. Go to Wikipedia, type “al gor” in the search box, and click the search button. You should see something like this. That’s right, the top results are Al-Merrikh, Cy-Gor, Firouzabad, and Kagame Inter-Club Cup.

Absolutely terrible! If you type the same thing in the search box at Google, not only do you get accurate results, but Google prompts you with “Did you mean: al gore”. Why yes, I did! So why is searching Wikipedia so bad?

Part of the problem is that Wikipedia actually has two search modes: “Go” and “Search”. If you type “Al Gore” (spelled correctly) in the box and click Go, you’re taken right to the entry about Al Gore. If you instead click Search, you’re taken to a list of articles that contain or reference “Al Gore”. You can read more about searching Wikipedia here. So they’ve sort of complicated things by including two buttons instead of just one. The Go button is useful when you know the name of the article you want, but useless otherwise.

The other part of the problem is that the search algorithm just plain sucks. I know they don’t have a lot of resources, but you’d think that one of the most popular websites on the web could have a decent search feature. Matching “al gor” with “al gore” is a problem that has been solved for years, yet Wikipedia doesn’t even come close to accomplishing it!

Wikipedia itself mentions external search engines as a way to find what you’re looking for, but they aren’t really much better. For instance, if you type “al gor” at the special Google search for Wikipedia page, you do get the correct Al Gore entry as the first result, but the rest are not relevant at all.

So here’s where we’re at. Google knows that if you type “al gor” you probably mean “Al Gore”. Wikipedia knows about all of the entries that reference “Al Gore”. What we need is a way to combine the two! Is that really so much to ask?

If you know of a better way to search Wikipedia, please let me know!

Google buys Jaiku – why?

Post Image Today microblogging service Jaiku announced that they have been purchased by Google. I came across the news via a barrage of Twitter updates this morning, and it wasn’t long before everyone started wondering why Google chose Jaiku over Twitter. It seems that most people feel Jaiku is the superior platform technology-wise, but the community at Twitter is better. I’d more or less agree with that statement. For instance, I chose Jaiku to display “my status” on the right side of my website instead of Twitter because the reliability and performance of Jaiku was just so much better. It still is.

Marc Orchant has a great post on the topic. Scoble thinks that Google made the move for Jaiku because of Facebook. He suggests that Google is gearing up to launch some major competition for Facebook on November 5th. That may be true, but I like what Ross Mayfield had to say better (though he too mentions Facebook):

But perhaps the greatest direction they can go with this is lifestreaming.

With Google’s savvy around structuring the unstructured, picture lifestreaming evolving into something that infers permalinks for social activity.  One day your Google homepage may be a stream of your friends and what they are doing, sharing, and adopting.

Yes! Enough of this manually updating my lifestream already, let’s make it update automagically. Even better, give everyone a lifestream by default. That idea gets me excited.

A follow-up post from Scoble highlights that Google has built themselves a “very strong position in the RSS ecosystem” as they now own Google Reader, FeedBurner, and Jaiku (which imports/aggregates RSS feeds). Very good point indeed.

Now the question is – who will snap up Twitter?

Read: Ross Mayfield

Google Acquires FeedBurner

Post ImageLots of talk today about Google’s $100 million acquisition of RSS management company FeedBurner. Congrats to the FeedBurner guys! I do have to admit though that I am bit sad that FeedBurner is now a Google property. I guess they were too valuable to remain independent forever though. From TechCrunch:

Feedburner is in the closing stages of being acquired by Google for around $100 million. The deal is all cash and mostly upfront, according to our source, although the founders will be locked in for a couple of years.

The information we have is that the deal is now under a binding term sheet and will close in 2-3 weeks, and there is nothing that can really derail it at this point.

Must be pretty sweet to get an all cash deal. TechCrunch confirmed it today, but it looks like Valleywag had the story right last week.

Not everyone is happy about the deal. Todd Cochrane does a good job of spreading FUD in his post. Todd, you need to worry less!

Read: TechCrunch

Creating a Thought Stack

Post ImageI came across a really interesting post yesterday at Mashable! entitled Why Google Is Making Us Dumber. Eye-catching title is it not? Stan, the author, argues that our growing reliance on Google might cause problems when Google isn’t around:

I used to be able to quickly convert pounds to kilograms. Currently, I lack this knowledge, because I know that Google has built-in unit conversion capabilities. Simply type X pounds to kilograms into Google and you get the answer.

What happens if I’m abroad and need to quickly convert between pounds and kilograms? Problem.

As for being abroad: the Internet is almost everywhere! Soon it will be, so I am not sure we should be so concerned with that. It’s true, Google knows all kinds of great information: math, conversions, capital cities, currency conversions, etc. I relied very heavily on the conversion capabilities while doing my astronomy homework this past year. Does that make me dumber? No.

I think Stan is wrong to suggest that Google is making us dumber. Instead, Google allows us to put our energy towards more important thought activities. Generally speaking, math or unit conversions are just small pieces in a larger puzzle. If we don’t have to worry about these smaller pieces, we can put more effort into solving the puzzle.

I think Google is just one piece in a “thought stack” – roughly analogous to a web server in a technology solution stack. Imagine if you had to build a web server every time you wanted to create a website…you’d never get the website built! It wouldn’t be worth the effort. So instead we have a general purpose web server that we build on top of. Google is like that general purpose web server, but for basic kinds of thought activities. Instead of doing a conversion everytime you are designing a widget, Google does the conversion and you focus on the widget.

(It should be noted that Google could be replaced with something else, just like Apache and IIS do the same job and are replacements for one another.)

If you like the idea of the technological singularity, this “thought stack” should make a lot of sense. Perhaps one day the Google-like module will be embedded directly into our brains.

Read: Mashable!

Microsoft & Yahoo!

Post ImageEveryone is buzzing about the New York Post story that Microsoft is very seriously trying to hook up with Yahoo!. You can read lots of opinion over at TechMeme. The idea is not new – rumors surfaced back in January 2006, and probably existed before that too.

I am excited about the possibility of a combined Microsoft-Yahoo! organization. However, it seems the reason behind such a deal would be to better compete with Google. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason for MSFT and YHOO to tie the knot. Why not? For the same reason this person thinks Google should buy Starbucks (what a stupid idea):

Google was listed as the 17th largest US company in market value, $143 billion at the time of publication in the Forbes 500. Google sprang to that size faster than any company in history. It remains the only company that is not diversified, at that scale or anywhere close to that scale. And when you check on its standing according to revenue (10.6B), it drops from #17 to #241.

Google has one source of revenue: AdSense. What if something happened to AdSense? Nothing is bulletproof. Without AdSense, Google would die. Period. I’m not saying that Microsoft and/or Yahoo! should try to disrupt the AdSense machine. All I am saying is that it’s far easier for Google to make a mistake and pay the price than it is for Microsoft or Yahoo!.

Do it like they do in F1
In Formula 1 racing, one strategy for passing a competitor who is in front of you is to wait, especially if there are a lot of laps left in the race. The reason behind this is simple. If you get too impatient and a take a big risk to go for it, you could very well crash. In general, you’re far better off staying close behind your competitor, putting immense pressure on them. Most of the time, they’ll make a mistake, and you’ll have a chance to capitalize on it with a clean pass. Michael Schumacher was incredibly good at this.

Perhaps Microsoft should take a page out of Schumacher’s playbook? Microsoft can afford to be patient, and the race is far from over.

If Microsoft and Yahoo! want to join up to share technology and build better products, that’s one thing. If it’s just about beating Google, there’s better ways of doing it.

Read: TechMeme

How Google names products

Post ImageYesterday Google announced that they have renamed Froogle to Google Product Search. The change is explained on the official Google Blog:

Froogle offers a lot of great functionality and has helped many users find things to buy over the years, but the name caused confusion for some because it doesn’t clearly describe what the product does.

I don’t think that’s why they renamed it. I think Owen Thomas is right to point out that Google’s marketing is run by engineers. Froogle was/is simply a subset of search in general, so why not name it as such?

Think about it. They have Google, Google Image Search, Google Book Search, and Google Blog Search, so why not Google Product Search?

You could almost use the following rule for the way Google names products:

Is search the core feature of this product?
If yes then call it Google _____ Search
If no then call it Google _____

Obviously not all Google products fit into this rule, but most do.

Read: Google Blog