Clarifying my comments on Twitter’s annotations

Two weeks ago, Mathew Ingram from GigaOM pinged me via my Google Profile to ask what my thoughts — as an open web advocate — are on Twitter’s new annotations feature. He ended up posted portions of my response yesterday in a post titled “Twitter Annotations Are Coming — What Do They Mean For Twitter and the Web?

The portion with my comments reads:

But Google open advocate Chris Messina warns that if Twitter doesn’t handle the new feature properly, it could become a free-for-all of competing standards and markups. “I find them very intriguing,” he said of Annotations, but added: “It could get pretty hairy with lots of non-interoperable approaches,” a concern that others have raised as well. For example, if more than one company wants to support payments through Annotations but they all use proprietary ways of doing that, “getting Twitter clients and apps to actually make sense of that data will be very slow going indeed,” said Messina. However, the Google staffer said he was encouraged by the fact that Twitter was looking at supporting existing standards such as RDFa and microformats (as well as potentially Facebook’s open graph protocol).

Unfortunately some folks found these comments more negative than I intended them to be, so I wanted to flesh out my thinking by providing the entire text of the email I sent to Mathew:

Thanks for the question Mathew. I admit that I’m no expert on Twitter Annotations, but I do find them very intriguing… I see them creating a lot of interesting momentum for the Twitter Dev Community because they allow for all kinds of emergent things to come about… but at the same time, without a sane community stewardship model, it could get pretty hairy with lots of non-interoperable approaches that re-implement the same kinds of features.

That is — say that someone wants to implement support for payments over Twitter Annotations… if a number of different service providers want to offer similar functionality but all use their own proprietary annotations, then that means getting Twitter clients and apps to actually make sense of that data will be very slow going indeed.

I do like that Ryan Sarver et al are looking at supporting existing schema where they exist — rather than supporting an adhocracy that might lead to more reinventions of the wheel than Firestone had blowouts. But it’s unclear, again, how successful that effort will be long term.

Of course, as the weirdo originator of the hashtag, it seems to me that the Twitter community has this funny way of getting the cat paths paved, so it may work out just fine — with just a slight amount of central coordination through the developer mailing lists.

I’d really like to see Twitter adopt ActivityStreams, of course, and went to their hackathon to see what kind of coordination we could do. Our conversation got hijacked so I wasn’t able to make much progress there, but Twitter does seem interested in supporting these other efforts and has reached out to help move things forward.

Not sure how much that helps, but let me know what other questions you might have.

I stand by these comments — though I can see how, spliced and taken out of context, they could be misconstrued.

Considering that we’re facing similar questions about the extensibility model for ActivityStreams, I can speak from experience that guiding chaos into order is actually how “standards” evolve over time. Managing that process determines how quickly an effort like Twitter’s annotations will succeed.

Twitter’s approach of  balancing between going completely open against being centrally managed is a smart approach, and I’m looking forward to both working with them on their efforts, as well as seeing what their developer community produces.

Social media versus Oil Can Henry’s

It’s the banal that determines whether social media will succeed in the mainstream, and today I had an experience that I think demonstrates how far away we are from achieving the the ubiquitously useful social media experience we deserve.

Specifically, I got my oil changed.

The epitome of banal, right?

Yeah, except, see, I don’t really know anything about cars (yeah, I’m man enough to admit it… what? What?!), — and so when the Oil Can Henry’s technician suggested that I use synthetic motor oil instead of the conventional stuff I’d been using, I had no idea what to tell him — though the significant price difference definitely put me off.

Famous 20-Point Full-Service Oil Change

Pressed for an answer, I did what anyone in this situation would do (yeah right): I posted to Twitter and CC’d Aardvark (a question-answer service that follows my tweets):

Twitter / Chris Messina: I've got ~26K miles on a 2 ...

Within seconds @vark sent me a direct message confirming that they’d received my query and were on the case:

Twitter / Direct Messages

Of course by now the attendant needed an answer — I was there for an oil change after all — and stalling until I got a definitive answer would have just been awkward.

“Sure,” I said, “what the hell.”

Then the responses started rolling in.

The first came from Derek S. on Aardvark 3 minutes later:

I’m far from a car expert, but my experience with my Honda Fit is that Hondas are generally engineered to run on the basics… regular unleaded gas, regular oil, etc. My guess is it’s probably not worth it.

Hmm, okay, that’s basically what I thought too, but it sounds like Derek knows as much about cars as I do.

Then came the first response on Twitter from Kasey Skala:

@chrismessina synthetic is for 75k+

Hmm, well, that’s pretty definitive. Guess I got punk’d.

But then more answers came in. A total of 17 tweets overall:

Erik Marden:

@chrismessina synthetic costs more, but lasts longer. I always go for it.

Rex Hammock:

@chrismessina For the record, Castrol is 100% owned by BP. Just saying. For the record.

Nick Cairns:

@chrismessina castrol is a bp co

Jon Bringhurst:

@chrismessina If you go synthetic, keep in mind that time between oil changes can jump up to like 10k+ miles, depending on how you drive.


@chrismessina Started doing 15Kmile synthetic on my 98 Honda. Need to read up more, but think fewer oil changes = less oil used.

Mark Boszko:

@chrismessina Synthetic oil is always a good idea, in my experience. I’ve taken cars to nearly 300K miles with its help.

Sam Herren:

@chrismessina Only if you wanna keep synthetic for the rest of the time you own the car.  Can’t go back and forth.


@chrismessina I’ve heard that’s about the time to do it. Advantage = less frequent oil changes but nary any cost savings in my experience.

Frank Stallone (2, 3):

@chrismessina I put only synthetic oils in my cars — check your manual you may find you were suppose to be putting that in from the start!

@chrismessina I just looked up your car – every engine that Honda built for it should use synthetic

@chrismessina I love Amsoil the most but I’ll use Castrol and Mobile 1 any day — very trust worthy brands

B J Clark:

@chrismessina yes, go with synthetic and then only change it once every 5k – 10k miles.

Todd Zaki Warfel (2):

@chrismessina primary benefit of synthetic is if you drive hard or want to go longer on oil changes (e.g. 6-10k).

@chrismessina it’s the only thing I ran in my Mini Cooper S Works Edition (street legal race car)

Osman Ali:

@chrismessina Mobil 1

Christopher Loggins:

@chrismessina Prob too late, but Castrol Syntec is good oil. Good viscocity, temperature range, and zinc. Would use vs conventional.

I’ve captured all the responses here to give you a sense for the variety of answers I received from respondents who were all presumably unaware of each other’s responses.

If you ask me, this is a pretty good range — and is an excellent demonstration of both social search and distributed cognition and illustrates why “social” can’t be solved by an algorithm (this is the stuff that Brynn‘s an expert on).

The reality is that that my social network (including my 22,000+ Twitter followers and extended network through Aardvark) failed me. I probably made a premature decision to switch to synthetic oil — or at best, a decision without sufficient knowledge of the consequences (i.e. that once you switch, you really shouldn’t switch back). It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything, but this is the kind of experience that I’d expect social networks to be really good at. And it’s not like I didn’t get good answers — they just weren’t there when I needed them.

And it’s all the more funny because I actually tweeted my plans two hours before I left… why didn’t the network anticipate that I might need this kind of information and prepare it in advance? Better yet: why didn’t my car tell me its opinion (I’m half serious — it should be the authority, right?)? Surely the answer I sought was out there in the world some where — why didn’t my network tee this up for me? (And no doubt I’m not the first person to find himself in this situation!)

The network responded, but only after it was too late. So the next time I’m confronted by a question like this, what’s the likelihood that I’ll turn to my network? What if I didn’t work on this stuff for a living?

Out of curiosity, I submitted this question to Fluther, Quora, and tried to cross-post to Facebook (since Facebook is working on its own Q&A solution) but that failed for some reason.

So far, I’ve received three responses on Fluther, none on Quora, and two on Aardvark. I also posted the full text of my question to Google and Bing but amusingly enough, only my Fluther question came up as a result.

My takeaway? We’ve certainly made progress on the accessibility of social networks in aiding in question answering, but until our networks are able to provide better real-time or anticipatory responses, caveat emptor still applies.

Then again, YMMV.

My first five months at Google, by the numbers

Clarification: The first version of the post talked about my first six months at Google. Apparently my math skills haven’t improved since I took the job, however, as there are actually only five months between June and January. I regret the error.

Today marks six five months since I joined Google on my birthday on January 7. It’s been an interesting, busy time for me.

Having never worked for a big company (where I define “big” as having more than 100 employees), working for Google is a lot like moving from the suburbs into a big city — I’m just constantly meeting new people and finding out about stuff I had no idea was going on.

Still, to put things in perspective, Google only has about 20,000 employees, whereas, Microsoft has nearly 100,000 and HP has a whopping 300,000. Those numbers boggle my mind, but are useful to keep in mind when Googlers call their employer a “startup”, unironically.

Speaking of big numbers, Eric Schmidt threw some big numbers around recently about the amount of data being created relative today to the sum total of all data that’s been create thus far. Essentially, since the beginning of time and 2003, five exabytes of information were created; since then, we’ve been creating something like five exabytes every two days (skip to 19:43 in this video to see the actual quote; it of course also makes sense that Google would need to rev its indexing approach to accommodate this influx of data).

With all that data, it occurred to me that I should figure out what my contribution is — not in gigabytes, but in terms of other social media metrics. And given how data-focused Google tends to be, I figured I’d focus on areas of growth.

So in the last six five months, here’s my data:

Also, based on my Fitbit weekly averages, I’ve also walked about 1,000,000 steps over the past 152 days (though it’d be so much cooler if they hurried up and offered an API!).

So, not completely exhaustive — and some data was more elusive than other figures to track down — but there’s a snapshot of various metrics from my first six five months at Google.

Up and to the Right

I highly expect things to only increase their “up and to the right” trajectory from here on out.