End of an era in technology (the world’s most awesome tweetup)

STS-135 Last Shuttle Launch

When my friend Trey Ratcliff (he’s a great photographer who builds iPhone/iPad apps, among other things) begged me to come to the Shuttle launch I never imagined I’d be standing on the grass in front of the countdown clock with tears streaming down my face.

So, why was I here? Well, I got a special invite to be part of NASA’s Tweetup.

What was that? NASA invited 150 people to the Kennedy Space Center to get a very intimate look at the operation here. They gave us better access than a lot of the press get and I think I met four astronauts so far. I interviewed one on my iPhone, while standing in front of the Shuttle.

The NASA Tweetup in front of the Space Shuttle

One bit of credit: NASA’s Stephanie Schierholz put on the best Tweetup I’ve ever been a part of. Part of that, for sure, is cause she had so much to work with, but she — and her team — just treated everyone so wonderfully and I was able to watch how hard they worked. They randomly picked most of the participants out of 5,000 applicants (I was one of a handful who were actually invited, I took vacation time to go and didn’t charge Rackspace for anything).

If you get a chance to go on a future NASA Tweetup, go. It is an amazing experience and one where you’ll get to do incredible things.

But, back to the end of an era in technology. After the launch, I interviewed NASA’s Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, about the changes that are happening in NASA now. You can listen to that interview, but what you can’t see is we both had tears in our eyes.

A few people this week have tweeted at me and said “what a waste of money.” Well, sorry, I don’t see it that way. As humans we should always be exploring.

But I am excited that we’re moving toward a more private, and lower-cost, method of taking people into space. I doubt I’ll live long enough to be able to fly affordably into space (maybe) but my kids certainly will. I can’t wait to see the Elon Musks of the world take us into that new world.

That said, this is an end of an era. One that started when we were in a cold-war fight with the Russians. Now our astronauts are forced to fly on Russian spaceships. All around me are evidence of the huge costs that our country took on back in the 1960s to get to the moon. But the Shuttle continued that kind of thinking. Now we’ll have to do space travel for a lot less. For a lot of people who work at Kennedy Space Center that means a lot of disruption.

Anyway, here’s some of my photos from an incredible week in my life (there are more on my Flickr account).

Trey Ratcliff, photographer, in front of Space Shuttle Atlantis

Speaking of photos, I interviewed Trey Ratcliff yesterday. He’s one of my favorite photographers and is a world expert on HDR photography.

I got to meet many of my heroes. Here’s Bob Crippen, who piloted the first Shuttle back in 1981 when I was in High School. He’s juxtaposed by the crew of the last Shuttle Crew getting set in Atlantis.

First and last

The Tweetup participants got to wave to the astronauts as they headed toward the launch pad. This is something I’ve always seen on TV, but here it was in real life in front of me.

Astronauts drive by Tweetup Participants @nasatweetup

Along one side of the press area are small block buildings where the big networks have their setups. Aimed right into the famous countdown clock. Jim Long, NBC Cameraman, invited me in to get a tour. You know him as NewMediaJim on Twitter (he is on the camera crew in the White House).

Newmediajim inside NBC's newsroom

This morning this is the view that greeted me at my parking space. I got emotional. So much of my life has been influenced by the vehicles built inside the Vertical Assembly Building (I got to go inside, something very few people from the public get to do). One of my earliest memories is sitting with my family watching the trip to the moon. That was the beginning of our modern era of space.

Today was the end and, yes, that is sad.

Why yo daddy won’t use Google+: no noise control

OK, there are a few people giving me heck for using sexist language in my last post. Sorry for pandering to my audience, but when I visit engineering teams at tech companies around the world they are mostly male. At the recent WWDC (Apple’s developer conference) there were so few women in the audience that the professional press started talking about it. So the post resonated better than if I had started “why yo daddy won’t use it.” But I wanna be fair and non-sexist, and VC Fred Wilson gave me that opportunity this morning.

He says his dad will like Google+.

Um, Fred, no he won’t (and neither will most average people) and here’s why. But first, I agree with Fred that a healthy competitor to Facebook would be a good thing, more on that later.

Look forward a couple of months from now, or maybe six, when Google+’s new car smell wears off and all of us elitist, sexist, ageist geeks have something new to poke around with and get excited by (new iPhone anyone?)

Then we’ll all judge Google+ by its utility, not by its new car smell (and it is a damn fine smell, believe me).

The big problem will become quite apparent that there’s no noise control. Yes, this is what made FriendFeed, Google Buzz, and other systems seem lame and why Facebook continues to be more interesting to most people in the world.

What do I mean by that?

Well, I spent a lot of time going through thousands of people’s social graphs (IE, their list of friends on Google+) and I’ve picked out all of the VCs and put them into a circle.

I’m looking at that list right now. Problem is it isn’t giving me ONE THING that I expect VCs to talk about. There isn’t one item that talks about funding new companies, gives me some insider look into Silicon Valley, or that gives me tips for how to run my company to get better returns.

Instead I see Joi Ito’s dive pictures, Ryan Spoon talking about Facebook Places, David Lee changed his profile photo, Francine Hardaway posted some funny animated GIF, Paul Buchheit talking about Twitter celebrities. And on and on and on it goes.

There is no utility here. Yes, it’s sorta fun, yes, geeks love to see the dive photos that that Joi shoots around the world (me too, but it’s hardly what I expected to be able to see here and actually it’s better to see those photos linked to from Twitter and displayed in Flipboard).

So, until Google gives us the ability to control noise Google+ will continue not being used by average people (my metaphorical “yo momma and yo daddy.”

The thing is what is noise control?

Two things, one of which Google is known for:

1. Search. The ability to say “show me all cool new items that talk about venture capital.”
2. Sifting. This is similar to search, but goes beyond. “Show me all future items that talk about venture capital.”

Now, if Google+ had both of those things, along with a few other features, then Fred Wilson’s daddy and yo momma might see some deep utility in a service like Google+.

One last thought on this noise control thing. Facebook has a really deep achilles heel that’s associated with this. It’s that everyone over there was so freaked out by Zuckerberg’s privacy grab that they turned on most of the privacy settings. I recently went through many of my Facebook friends and some had gotten so freaked out that they — even though they were my friends and I meet them quite often — stopped letting me see their wall (I unfriended anyone who did that because it totally removed any utility Facebook has, which is to let me see your fun photos of you living your life). Jeff Jarvis noticed this too and totally nailed it as something that Google is doing way better.

So, if you take what Google+ is doing better (encouraging people to share more publicly) and you put it with some noise control (er, search features) then we have something.

Until then, yo momma and yo daddy ain’t gonna be on Google+.

By the way, geeks are arguing with me about this post over on Google+.

Why yo momma won’t use Google+ (and why that thrills me to no end)

OK, I’ve been putting many hours into Google+. In just the few days that it’s been released I’ve followed 2,723 people, written many dozens of posts there, and have thoroughly used the product. I’ve also tried to get some normal users into the product, starting with my wife (we argued for 45 minutes about it) and I’ve come to some conclusions. Here’s the biggie:

Your mom won’t use Google+.

How can I state that so clearly? Easy. Most “average users” are locked into Facebook and aren’t willing to consider a new social tool until they hear about it from their friends. Since most of the people who are on Google+ so far are geeks, insiders, social media stars, journalists, and other people (Google admitted tonight they are only accepting people who have strong social graphs so that they can both make sure everyone has a good first experience as well as test out some of the technology before opening it up to a wider audience) the chances normal people (metaphorically speaking, your mom) won’t hear about Google+ from normal users for quite a while.

By then I’m sure Facebook will react (ie, copy) Google+’s best features (Facebook already has called a press conference for next week where they are going to announce something “awesome”). This will mean that normal users, who aren’t really going to get involved at this point in Google+’s life, won’t feel the need to switch.

So, what is Google+ for then?

It’s for us!

Come on now, we geeks and early adopters and social media gurus need a place to talk free of folks who think Justin Bieber is the second coming of Christ. That’s what we have in Google+ right now. Do we really want to mess that up?

Plus, let’s just be honest here. There are pieces of Google+ that are mighty geeky.

Let’s start with how to bold and italicize text. Do you have a pretty editing window like, say, exists on Quora? No way.

To bold text you surround that text with asterisks. *Like this* GEEKY ALERT! Italicize? Put underscores around the text. Strikeout? Put hyphens around it.

And that’s just the little thing. Let’s talk about the big thing. Circles. Now, heavy and passionate users of social media, like myself, really love things like lists and groups. Why? Because we want to spend hundreds of hours making sure our social graphs are really organized.

Normal people do NOT do this. They just want to friend their 20 real-life friends and 30 family folks and be done with it. Average/normal users want the system just to bring them fun stuff without doing any work.

See, if you put the average Silicon Valley geek in front of a TV and tell him to sit on the couch and watch TV for four hours they won’t know what to do. They will start building databases of their favorite shows, start figuring out how to optimize their DVRs so they can fast-forward through commercials faster, and stuff like that.

Normal/average users? They just want to watch TV and drink beer.

So, you getting where I’m going with this? Google+ is for the passionate users of tech. If you just want to sit back and have the system do all the work (which means it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for most people) then Facebook is gonna be where you stay, especially since your friends are gonna lock you in for quite some time. But if you want to really be able to choose who you listen to, then Google+ is much better.

Oh, and that’s not even considering the new “Hangout” videochat feature. Damn that thing is cool. You can have 10 people call into a room and it lets you all talk to each other. I haven’t used Skype since that shipped.

Anyway, it’s clear Google has turned a corner. They have now proven to everyone that they can do social and get on the playing field.

But they haven’t yet proven that they can convince your mom to use it and that’s just fine with me.

That all is a long way of saying that I really love Google+ and I don’t care what the average user thinks of it. I’m getting a ton of utility out of it and I am having a blast with it. Hope to see you there soon, but please leave yo momma over on Facebook, OK?