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.

Happy birthday to me! I’m joining Google

Google Birthday

Yes friends, I’m turning 29 and I’ve decided to go work for The Man.

😉

In all actuality, I’ve been mulling over such a move for some time, considering a number of compelling opportunities for my next step. After reviewing my options — in light of the progress I’ve made so far and my familiarity and existing relationships with the new team at Google that I’ll be working with — I came to the conclusion that Google offers me the best possible opportunity to continue my work in an environment and culture that is compatible with my outlook, goals, and work habits.

I was trained as a designer, but I’ve been involved with the tech scene since I arrived in Silicon Valley just over five years ago. In some ways, technology has reshaped the way I approach and solve problems — forcing me to think in terms of adoption strategies first, rather than always trying to find the simplest, cleanest design, because of the disadvantaged position I occupied as a non-coder. I can see the consequences of these effects on my approaches first to OAuth, and then to Activity Streams, as well as with OpenID, with positive and negative results. In some ways I’ve had to temper my designer training and put technology first in order to grow an audience. But now I’m ready for new challenges that will expand my ideas and tactics, force me to attack problems from new perspectives, and dip into my design thinking repertoire to operate at a whole new level.

Though I consistently aim high, I want more success in turning my ideas into tangible outcomes, and in doing so, prove the power that I see in open, interoperable standards that can make the web a richer and more intricately spun space.

In some ways, I’m still just getting started with my work.  In joining Google, I see the chance to have a greater impact than I might otherwise on my own. That said, I won’t lose track of what intrinsically motivates me — that I’ve always been about spreading the benefits of the web by creating technology that  fosters innovation and choice. And there’s where I see alignment with what I’ve been doing, and what Google needs to succeed. In fact, my new title at Google? The same one I independently gave myself a year ago: “Open Web Advocate”.

In this role, I’ll still be an active community board member of the OpenID and Open Web Foundations; I hope to help push the Activity Streams project forward with a 1.0 release of the spec soon. And I’m still hopeful about the future of my our semi-neglected and half dormant Diso Project! I’ll also soon be publishing the results of my collaboration with Mozilla Labs, which will provide some insight into what social networking in the browser might look like, and how OpenID Connect might play a role in it.

For good measure, I should also point out that my good friend and colleague Joseph Smarr also made a similar decision recently  — unbeknownst to me at the time! —  and announced that he’ll be joining Google later this month as well.

So, net-net, I’m stoked to be joining The Man Google, and very thankful to have had as much support from the many, many people with whom I’ve connected through the synapses of the social web over these past several years. This is of course a very happy birthday present for me, and I’m eagerly anticipating what’s next for the open social web in 2010…! This can all still be made better. Ready? Begin.

Feel free to leave a comment here, or get in touch via email.

Update: here’s the latest theSocialWeb.tv episode where I make my announcement:

Losing my religion

Last January, writing on the problem of open source design, I said:

I’ve probably said it before, and will say it again, and I’m also sure that I’m not the first, or the last to make this point, but I have yet to see an example of an open source design process that has worked.

Indeed, I’d go so far as to wager that “open source design” is an oxymoron. Design is far too personal, and too subjective, to be given over to the whims and outrageous fancies of anyone with eyeballs in their head.

Lately, I’m feeling the acute reality of this sentiment.

In 2005, I wrote about how I wanted to take an “open source” approach to the design of Flock by posting my mockups to Flickr and soliciting feedback. But that’s more about transparency than “open source”. And I think there’s a big difference between the two that’s often missed, forgotten or ignored altogether: one refers to process, the other refers to governance.

Design can be executed using secretive or transparent processes; it really can’t be “open” because it can’t be evaluated in same way “open source” projects evaluate contributions, where solutions compete on the basis of meritocratic and objective measures. Design is sublime, primal, and intuitive and needs consistency to succeed. Open source code, in contrast, can have many authors and be improved incrementally. Design — visual, interactive or conceptual — requires unity; piecemeal solutions feel disjointed, uncomfortable and obvious when end up in shipping product.

Luke Wroblewski is an interaction designer. He recently made an observation about “openness” that really resonated with me:

I read this quote last week and realized it is symptomatic of a common assertion that in technology (and especially the Web) “completely open” is better than “controlled”.

“But we’ll all know exactly where Apple stands – jealously guarding control of their users […] And that’s not what Apple should be about.” –TechCrunch

Sorry but Apple makes their entire living by tightly controlling the experience of their customers. It’s why everyone praises their designs. From top to bottom, hardware to software -you get an integrated experience. Without this control, Apple could not be what it is today.

He followed up with a post on Facebook’s design process today that I also found exceedingly compelling.

I worry about Mozilla in this respect — and all open source projects that cater to the visible and vocal, ignoring the silent or unengaged majority.

I worry about OpenID similarly — an initiative that will be essential for the future of the social web and yet is hampered by user experience issues because of an attachment to fleeting principles like “freedom” and “individual choice”. Sigh.

I’m not alone in these concerns.

When it comes to open source and design, design — and human factors, more generally — cannot play second fiddle to engineering. But far too often it seems that that’s the case.

And it shouldn’t be.

More often there should be a design dictator that enters into a situation, takes stock of the set of problems that people (read: end users) are facing, and then addresses them through observation, skill, intuition, and drive. You can evaluate their output with surveys, heuristics, and user studies, but without their vision, execution, and insane devotion to see through making it happen, you’ll never see shit get done right.

As Luke says, Most people out there prefer a great experience over complete openness.

I concur. And I think it’s critical that “open source” advocates (myself included) keep that at top of mind.

. . .

I will say this: I’m an advocate for open source and open standards because I believe that open ecosystems — i.e. those with low barriers to entry (low startup costs; low friction to launch; public infrastructure for sustaining productivity) — are essential for competition at the level of user experience.

It may seem paradoxical, but open systems in which secretive design processes are used can result in better solutions, overall.

Thus when I talk about openness, I really mean openness from an economic/competitive perspective.

. . .

Early today I needed access to a client’s internal wiki. Having gone without access for a week, I decided to toss up a project on Basecamp to get things started.

When I presented my solution to the team, I was told that we needed to use something open source that could be hosted on their servers. Somewhat taken aback, I suggested Basecamp was the best tool for the job given our approaching deadline..

“No, no, that won’t do,” was the message I got. “Has to be open source. Self-hosted.”

I asked them for alternatives. “PHProjekt“. Double Choco Latte. I proposed Open Atrium.

Once again, as seems all too common lately, more time was devoted to picking a tool rather than producing solutions. More meta than meat. Worst of all, religion was in the driver’s seat, rather than reality. Where was that open source pragmatism I’d heard so much about?

Anyway, not how I want to begin a design process.

Ultimately, I got the access I needed — to MediaWiki. So, warts and all, we’ll be using that to collaborate. On a closed intranet.

In the back of my head, I can’t help but fear that the tools used for design collaboration bleed into the output. To my eyes, MediaWiki isn’t a flavor that I want stirred into the pot. And it begs the question once and for all: what good can “open source” bring to design if the only result is the product of committee dictate?

When all I seem to do is bitch, bitch, bitch

Twitter / Daniel Dura: I guess that now Adobe isn't open sourcing things in the 'right way'. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. http://is.gd/1GUJh

Ok, so I see it now. It’s not like I didn’t have some notion of it before, but now it’s really obvious.

It would seem as though I’ve become one of those mean and despised open source nut-case curmudgeons with nothing nice to say.

How soon we forget the lessons our mothers taught us.

While constructive criticism is essential for keeping in context the various actions and decisions of industry players, consistently taking on the role of the negative creep just doesn’t jive with the more powerful approach of positive reinforcement. Just because I’m personally disappointed or disagree with someone’s decision doesn’t mean that my way is right, nor does it mean I’ve got all the facts that I need in order to deliver a credible critique. Worse, all this negativity just gets people’s backs up — reinforcing the very walls that I’ve been trying to tear down!

Case in point?

Writing for CNET, Open Road columnist Matt Asay cites my post on Adobe’s Open Source Media Framework to demonstrate how open source advocates (acolytes?) are potentially doing more harm than good with their vitriolic complaints:

Sigh. In open source, no good deed goes unpunished. There is no greater enemy to open source than itself.

[…]

…why would anyone expect Microsoft and its ilk to continue to court a community that ridicules and second-guesses its every attempt at perestroika? I know from conversations with several companies that they’re actually scared to engage the open-source community because the responses have been so intemperate and ideological.

I’m convinced that this element of the open-source community, vocal and sometimes vicious, is a minority. I’m equally convinced that we’d better off if this enemy within would spend more time analyzing its own behavior rather than shouting down the supposed “mudbloods” of open source.

But it’s not just Matt that made this point. In personal conversations and on Twitter… it’s clear that my rhetoric, though well-intentioned (in my mind), is perhaps missing the mark and needs an attitudinal adjustment. Furthermore — to Matt’s point — other people in open source that I respect have called me out on it — people like Alex Russell:

Reading your post makes me grumpy as someone who’s spent nearly all of his career building Open Source products. It makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that everyone else who choses a set of licensing terms *does so for the same reasons that you do*. It’s human nature to assume that others can and do share your perspective, but it’s as often wrong in software as it tends to be in other aspects of life.

“open washing”? “anti-community”? WTF?

The good arguments for OSS are economic…and your critique doesn’t begin to address Adobe (or anyone else’s) moves in that context. The code is MPL. The community process is likely not 100%, and together those things will define who *else* invests in this code. MPL is a fine license. That investment will determine if (and for whom) this announcement is good. Trying to tar Adobe for not being sufficiently slavish in their devotion to a cause that they can’t *ever* get on board with (economically speaking) seems…strange. Why bother?

And he’s right. Why bother ranting on for 1100+ words when the intended target is going to end up feeling bruised and angry, if they don’t just walk away altogether?

A much more civil tone could perchance reach the intended audience as well as a wider audience — and be replayed across many contexts beyond this blog’s readership: a wider, and therefore more valuable, contribution.

Though it’s no consolation, I am at least an equal-opportunity curmudgeon. I’ve poked Mozilla in the eye just as I have Microsoft. Adobe and Opera were only the most recent in a long line of targets that I’ve besmirched. When I write these tirades, in my head my intention is to inform and elucidate — trying to achieve contrast, if not through provocation. But without counterbalancing my complaints with some positivity from time to time, it just ends up sounding grating and unhelpful. And that’s something that I clearly need to work on.

So Matt, Alex, Ryanothers — message received. Perhaps this little personal intervention will lead to a more constructive approach to the challenge of evangelizing open source, while promoting and highlighting the aspects of it that I think are being forgotten as it becomes a more mainstream concept.

Of course there has been great progress made recently by the most unlikely of industry players — and for that, they should be praised and acknowledged. Never one to be satisfied (especially in my own endeavors), maybe I’ve just assumed that I need to stay up on the offensive, even as things have shifted. I mean, perhaps we have made so much progress that this new narrative that I keep talking about is necessary — and that continuing to fight when the battle’s been won risks alienation and undoing much of the progress that’s been made!

If I really believe that “this can all be made better”, perhaps I should recognize when it finally has?

The Fall of Vidoop

Vidoop logoWhen I left Flock in 2006, I blogged the occasion, having helped start the company by contributing a vision for what I thought the web needed: a social browser.

When I was laid off from Vidoop last month, I didn’t so much as tweet about it. The circumstances were different this time. But because the lack of information coming from the company is disappointing (if not frankly irresponsible) it seemed time that I wrote down my recollection of what went down.
Continue reading The Fall of Vidoop

RIP @factoryjoe

Twitter / Mr Messina: Oh, and in case you missed ...

Sometime last week, after two Manhattans, I decided to change my Twitter username from @factoryjoe to @chrismessina. In the scheme of things, not a big deal (yeah, okay, so I broke a couple thousand hyperlinks…). And yet, I can’t but feel like I’ve shed a skin or changed identities… at least to a specific audience.

I started using Twitter in 2006 as “factoryjoe”. Of course, this is the nick that I use everywhere —from Flickr to my personal homepage — so that choice was obvious. I essentially own factoryjoe on the web — people even occasionally call me “Joe” when we meet, such is their familiarity with my online persona. But that’s not my actual name.

When I talk in front of people and I introduce myself as “Chris Messina”, the disconnect between my real name and my online persona becomes distracting. And, over time, my motivations for having a separate online identity have waned.

But first, I suppose, I should provide some background.

Every so often I’m asked where “factoryjoe” came from: “Kind of like ‘Joe the Plumber?’” “Kind of,” I say. “But not really.”

Growing up, I drew comic books for fun. In fact, for most of my formative years, it seemed pretty clear that I’d pursue a career in art. I worked in pastels, watercolor, pen and ink; I preferred pen and ink above all the others though, taking lessons from Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and others as Image Comics came on to the scene. It was a fond dream of mine to someday pen my own sequential art.

1984 by Shepard FaireyIn high school, I read Nineteen Eighty-Four and became enamored with the character of Winston Smith, Orwell’s “everyman” character. In Winston Smith, I found a confederate, struggling to assert his individual humanity against the massive, dehumanizing forces of groupthink and oligarchy. Similarly, I identified with Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and his struggle against homogeneity and mediocrity. The contours of “factoryjoe” began to emerge against the backdrop of the metropolitan “FactoryCity”, where industrialism was proven a sham and one’s conspicuous pursuit of passion ruled over the shallow pursuit of material consumption.

Factory City

Factory Joe was the anonymous shell in which I could plant my aspirations and designs for the future. He served as a metaphorical vessel through which I could mold a broader narrative.

So… changing your Twitter username?

In every superhero’s journey, there comes a time when the mask grows bigger than its owner. Is it the mask that provides the wearer with his power, or is it something integral to the individual?

I once believed that I needed to have a deep separation between myself and my online persona — that they should be distinct; that I should distrust the web. Over time I’ve realized a great deal power by closing the gap between who I am offline and who I am online. I suppose this is the power of transparency, developed through consistency and demonstrated integrity.

@factoryjoe was, therefore, my first go at creating an online identity for myself. A kind of “home away from home” that I could experiment with before this whole social web thing caught on.

As it happened, this was fine when I had a small group of friends who used similar aliases for themselves, but more recently — inspired by Facebook’s allergy to pseudonyms and non-human friendly usernames — it seems that not only owning your own identity is in vogue, but using your real name is an act of assertiveness, inventiveness or establishment. Heck, if you’re willing to share your real name with 150+ million compatriots on Facebook, is there really that much to be gained from obfuscating your actual name on the open web anymore (that’s rhetorical)?

So, back to Future of Web Apps… following my workshop with Dave, I took a step back to think about how it must appear for me to be working on the social web and identity technologies while maintaining this dichotomy between my offline and online personas — in name only. C’mon, when people have feedback and I’m talking on stage — who do I want them addressing? — my assumed identity … or me? The friction that I invented is just no longer necessary.

So factoryjoe isn’t going away — not entirely at least. It’s a useful vessel to inhabit and I’ll continue to do so. But on Twitter, Facebook, and on my homepage, I’ll use my real name. There is simply no longer a good reason to differentiate between who I am online, and who I am off, if ever there was.

. . .

Postscript: I’m now @chrismessina on Twitter. If we were friends before — no need to make any changes — Twitter took care of that already. @factoryjoe’s been retired, but now that I got it back from Recordon (he was just jealous, since he has the worst username ever), who knows, maybe he’ll return someday. We’ll see!

Future of White Boys’ Clubs Redux #fowaspeak

White Boys (+1)

In September of 2006, I wrote a piece called The Future of White Boy Clubs taking to task Ryan Carson for putting together a speaker lineup for his Future of Web Apps conference made up entirely of white men (for the record, Tantek resents being lumped in as “white”; he’s says he’s Turkish).

As a white male speaker, I wanted to make a point that not just lamented the dearth of female speakers, but also asserted a broader point about the value of diversity to tech conferences.

Two and half years later and the future of the web was yet again being presented from the perspective of a bunch of white guys — and were it not for a last minute substitution, Kristina Halvorson wouldn’t have made it on stage as the sole female voice.

Kristina Halvorson: I LOVE DUDES by Judson CollierKristina felt compelled to say something and so she did, sharing the last 10 of her 25 speaking minutes with Ryan Carson and me, confronting this perennial elephant in the room and calling for specific action.

Without context, some members of the audience felt ambushed.

But Kristina hadn’t planned to bring this up on stage; she wanted to talk about copy! Had progress been made over the last two years, she wouldn’t have had to. But she felt strongly — and after receiving encouragement from Kevin Marks, Daniel Burka and me — she decided to raise the issue because, frankly, no one else had plans to.

She didn’t merely want to complain and didn’t wish to inspire guilt in the predominantly white male audience (what’s there to feel guilty about anyway?). Her point was to frame the issue in a way that helped people recognize the symptoms of the problem, identify where responsibility lies (answer: with all of us) and provide constructive means to address them.

Let’s be real: I doubt it’s lost on anyone that the tech industry and its requisite events lack women. We know this. And we all suffer as a result (for the perspective and experiences they bring, among other things). Lately it’s getting worse: depending on the study you read, there are more females online than males, and yet enrollment by that demographic in computer science is on the wane. Events that purport to be about the “future of web” and yet fail to present speakers that represent the web’s actual diversity serve only to perpetuate this trend.

Turns out, white men also don’t have the monopoly on the best speakerseven in the tech industry — yet their ilk continue to make up a highly disproportionate number of the folks who end up on stage. And that means that good content and good ideas and important perspectives aren’t making it into the mix that should be, and as a result, audiences are getting short-changed.

The question is no longer “where are all the women?” — it’s why the hell aren’t white men making sure that women are up on stage telling their story and sharing the insights that they uniquely can provide!

Why should it only be women who raise their voices on this issue? This isn’t just “their” problem. This is all of our problem, and each of us has something to do about it, or knows someone who should be given an audience but has yet to be discovered.

As a conference organizer, Ryan pointed out that he’s not omniscient. As a fellow conference organizer, I can tell you that you aren’t going to achieve diversity just by talking about it. You have to work at it. To use a lame analogy: if you want food at your event, you’ve got to actually place the order, not just “talk about it”.

Similarly, with female speakers and attendees, you’ve got to work at it, and you’ve got to think about their needs and what will get them come to you (remember, it’s the audience that’s missing out here).

Now, to be fair, I know that Ryan and his team reached out to women. I know that some were too busy; others unavailable; some accepted only to later cancel. Yet still, only two of eight workshops were run by women (with Kristina doing double duty as the only female speaker). It wasn’t for complete lack of effort that more women weren’t on stage or in the audience; it was also the lack of visibility of — and outreach to — women operating on the cutting edges of technology, business, and the web.

This is what our on-stage discussion sought to address by soliciting recommendations from members of the audience tagged with #fowaspeak. By bringing the negative spaces in the conference agenda to the fore — calling attention to the incidental omission of women presenters — we acknowledged that that lack wasn’t necessarily the realization of intent but something more insidious.

It isn’t that women need “help” from white men; this isn’t about capability. To the contrary, the saturation of men in technology leads to women become marginalized and invisible. They are there, and they are present, but somehow we don’t miss them when they’re not up on stage standing next to us. And that’s something that absolutely must change.

Turning the spotlight to deserving women who work just as hard (if not harder) than men does not diminish them, nor should it minimize their accomplishments. An intelligent audience should be able to discern who on stage is meritorious and who is not.

That there are fewer women in the industry means first that conference organizers need work harder to find them and second that audiences need to become vigilant about their absences on conference schedules. It is something that all of us must internalize as our own struggle and then take ongoing, explicit actions to address.

As far as I’m concerned, one of the greatest opportunities to seize the future of web apps is to cement the necessity of diversity in our processes and in our thinking, not for the sake of diversity alone (deserving though it is) but because the technology that we produce is better for it, being more robust, more versatile and flexible, and ultimately, more humane.

The future of web apps — and the conferences that tell their stories — should not be gender-neutral or gender-blind — but gender-balanced. Today, as it was two years ago, we suffer from a severe imbalance. It is my hope that, in raising the specter of consequences of the lack of women in technology, we begin to make as much progress in stitching diversity into the fabric of our society as we are making in producing source code.