Hi5 CTO talks about Open Social, among other things

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Hi5 is a social network that’s very popular. They are seeing 100,000 new users every day. Facebook is seeing 200,000.

Since Hi5 is one of the partners in the Open Social platform, along with about 16 other social networks including MySpace, I wanted to find out about the social networking space from a company other than Facebook.

Also, at Facebook you never get to interview the geeks who actually build the service, so when I got a chance to interview Akash Garg, the Chief Technical Officer behind Hi5 I jumped at the chance. Geeks usually tell more details than the CEO will. Akash didn’t disappoint.

We talk about a variety of things about the social networking industry as well as his opinion of Open Social.


Google Android: we want developers but…

So, I’m watching the Android video and talking with my friends who are developers. Man, I thought my videos were boring, this one takes the cake.

Steve Jobs does NOT have to worry about losing his job to the folks from Google.

I didn’t see ONE feature that will get normal people to switch from the iPhone. This comes across like something developers developed for other developers without thought of how they were going to build a movement.

How do we know this developer API is uninspired? They are bribing developers with $10 million in prize money.

Compare to the iPhone. Steve Jobs treats developers like crap. Doesn’t give them an SDK. Makes them hack the phones simply to load apps. And they create hundreds of apps anyway. Now, Apple is getting is act together. Early next year an SDK is coming. So now developers will have both sexy hardware, a sexy OS (under iPhone is OSX, an OS that’s been in wide use for years now), AND a well-thought-out SDK.

But, here’s why Android is getting received with a yawn from me:

1. It was released without a personal approach. When Steve Jobs brings out new stuff he does it in front of people. Not in a cold video (as much as I love video it doesn’t inspire the way sitting in an audience does and getting to put my own hands on it).
2. This stuff is still vaporware. No phones are available with it. At Microsoft I learned DO NOT TRUST THINGS THAT THEY WON’T SHOW ME WORKING. Remember Longhorn? Er, Vista? The first time I saw it was largely in a format like this — it looked cool but it wasn’t running anywhere and they wouldn’t let me play with the cool demos. I’ll never make that mistake again. If you want my support for your platform I need to be able to use it and show it to my friends.
3. The UI looks confused. Too many metaphors. One reason the iPhone does so well is because the UI is fairly consistent. Fun, even. How do I know this? My ex-wife hates technology and she bought one and loves it. I try to imagine her getting a Google Android phone and getting very frustrated with a mixture of drop-down menus, clicking metaphors, and touch metaphors. At some point she’ll give it back and go back to the iPhone, which only presents a touch metaphor.
4. No real “love” for developers. Heck, I don’t know of a single developer who has had his/her hands on Android. And all we get is this cold video that just doesn’t inspire me to believe in the future of the platform. I know Dave Winer didn’t feel the love from the Open Social “campfire” event, but at least there we heard from quite a few third-party developers. That made me believe in the platform because I knew that they had already gotten at least SOME third-party developers on board. Heck, remember Facebook? Go back and see when I got excited by Facebook. It was two weeks after the F8 platform announcement. Why then? Because I saw that iLike got six million users in two weeks and was staying up. So, that communicated two things to me: 1. that the platform attracted interesting developers. 2. that Facebook was well enough architected to stay up, even under pretty dramatic load. Android is a LONG way from demonstrating either of these things to the market.
5. Google needs to get atomic videos. On an announcement like this there shouldn’t have been one long video, but rather 50 small ones, each demonstrating a separate API. Developers today are busy. Fully employed. They want easy to understand instructions for how to integrate platform stuff into their stuff. It’s amazing that Google itself doesn’t understand how its own search engine works. If it did, they would see the advantage of creating lots of video, not just one (because then they would be more likely to get found for a variety of search terms, not just a few — it’s one reason I create at least a video every day and it’s paid off very well for me). I’m giving Vic Gundotra the same advice — his long Open Social “campfire video” should have been cut up into the atoms that made up that video. Sure, put the long complete video up too (the molecule) but cut it up. Yes, yes, I know, I don’t take my own advice but then I have an excuse: it costs money, er time, to edit video and I don’t have a lot of it. Google doesn’t have that excuse.
6. Google’s PR comes across as “only caring about big bangs.” Last week I was in the Open Social press conference. Everyone else in the room worked for a big-name media outlet. Business Week. Wall Street Journal. Los Angeles Times. CNET. Barrons. etc. etc. Even TechCrunch was relegated to a phone-based seat and wasn’t in the room. That tells me that Google’s PR doesn’t get the value of small people. In fact, if you were tracking the mentions of that press call you’d have seen my use of Twitter during it got mentioned many times on blogs. Google’s PR didn’t seem to even understand why Twitter was important. They also kept me from using my video camera during the press call (the only reason I got video is cause I carried a cell phone with me — they asked me to leave my professional camera out in the car). Compare that to presidential candidate John Edwards who let me film, even on his plane during “off times.” And he has a Twitter account too.
7. It looks too much like a poor copy of the iPhone. They didn’t talk about ONE thing that the iPhone doesn’t do. Where’s the car integration? Why didn’t they focus a LOT on GPS, or video creation, or something else the iPhone doesn’t do. Do we really want to spin a Google earth map? Really? That doesn’t turn me on. Showing me Kyte.tv working on this thing would turn me on — that’s something the iPhone doesn’t do. Showing me killer podcasting-creation features would turn me on. That’s something the iPhone doesn’t do well. Instead we get some video game that we all played 10 years ago. Yawn. OK, OK, I know Android plays Quake and the iPhone doesn’t. But, come on, we all know a game API is coming for the iPhone and is that really going to get a lot of people to buy Android?

Anyway, so far I’m disappointed in Android. Maybe they’ll get it together, but until then I’ll remember the Russian Government official’s cell phone. He’s running Windows Mobile. Why? Cause developers in his community are building stuff for it. I’ll keep checking in with him to see if Android has gotten any traction.

Are you sensing that Google is just not very good at technology evangelism? After all, look at how successful Google has been outside of search. It hasn’t really had a good home run that we can point to outside of that. I think that’s because Google is coming across as too arrogant, too interested in only “important developers and people,” and doesn’t understand how to pitch end users and developers at the same time (developers only really come after end users do anyway, look again at the iPhone).

But what do I know, I’m just a blogger, right?

UPDATE: Patrick, on TwitterGram, says “it looks like a ripoff of the iPhone.”

UPDATE2: other responses are rolling in from around the Internet. Engadget. GigaOm.