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.

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.

Google Buzz and the fabric of the social web

Google Buzz IconWhen I joined the company a month ago, I was baited with the promise that Google was ready to get serious about the social web.

Yesterday’s launch of Google Buzz and the fledgling Google Buzz API is like a downpayment on what I see as Google’s broader social web ambitions, that have been bubbling beneath the surface for some time. Understand that Buzz is not entirely an end unto itself, but a way for Google to get some skin in the game to promote the use and adoption of different open technologies for the social web.

In fact, I’d argue that Buzz is as much about Google creating a new channel for conversation in a familiar place as it is about how we’re going about building its public developer surfaces. Although today’s Buzz API only offers a real-time read-only activity stream, the goal is to move quickly towards implementing a host of other technologies — most of which should be familiar to readers of this blog.

As Kevin Marks observes, in order to address the mess of the social web that Mike Arrington described, we need widespread use [of common standards] so that we can generalize across sites — and thus enable people to interact and engage across the web , rather than being restricted to any particular silo of activity — which may or may not reflect their true social configuration.

In other words, standards — and in particular social web standards — are the lingua franca that make it possible for uninitiated web services to interact in a consistent manner. When web services use standards to commoditize essential and basic features, it forces them to compete not with user lock-in, but by providing better service, better user experience, or with new functionality and utility. I am an advocate of the open web because I believe the open web leads to increased competition, which in turn affords people better options, and more leverage in the world.

Buzz is both a terrific product, and a great example of how the social web is evolving and becoming truly ubiquitous. Buzz is simply one more stitch in the fabric of the social web.