Google+ (Look It Up)

Google Plus or Minus

THE GOOG, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

Does anybody use Google+ any more? That seems to be the question floating around these days.

The Google+ project made its debut two months ago and by the end of its first month had a user base of 25 million worldwide, becoming the fastest-growing social media network in the admittedly short history of social media networks, according to comScore. Almost immediately afterward, Experian Hitwise, an online consumer behavior and marketing consultancy, began reporting that Google+’s rate of growth was slowing, and that the average amount of time Google+ users spent on the site was declining. Then the otherwise respected website GigaOm trumpeted the dubious results of a “voluntary sample of more than 10 million Google+ users” that purported to find “that a whopping 83 percent of Google+ users are currently classed as inactive.”

This fits with the standard model of modern mass media: Gross overhyping followed by savage criticism. Google+ is the best thing ever! Hey, wait, it sucks! Hurricane Irene will destroy the East Coast! Hey, wait, they canceled my flight for this?

Even so, people are asking if Google’s flagship social media service is destined to follow the trajectory of Google Buzz and Google Wave. People are wondering if social media fatigue is a factor.

After all, did you stop using Facebook or Twitter when you signed up for Google+? If you have 10 minutes to catch up on your social media streams, and you already have established networks on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, how much time are you going to devote to Google+?

For me, it’s privacy fatigue as much as anything.

YOGI

But back to the question: Does anybody still use Google+? As if often the case, I find myself in total agreement with Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded.” Millions of people use Google+. Millions more are waiting to get in. But I don’t go there anymore.

My enthusiasm for Google+ was never great to begin with, and it diminished after Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, explained that Google+ is really an Internet identity service with social media elements.

ERIC

Schmidt, according to a transcript of a Q&A session last week at the Edinburgh International TV Festival, said that Google+ is “an identity service with a link structure around your friends.” In other words, it’s a product that helps Google sell ads more effectively by gathering information about its users. To that end, Google+ does not allow anonymity. It has a “real names” policy and requires users to provide traceable personal information. “It’s central for Google to have such a service,” Schmidt said.

Asked how Google can justify requiring real names if doing so puts some users at risk, especially in unstable political climates, Schmidt said, “Well, the first comment is that Google+ is completely optional. In fact, many, many people want to get in. If you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to.”

By its own admission, Google developed Google+ as a more effective way to gather personal information from users and their friends that Google can then use to target advertisements more profitably.

If you signed up for Google+, here’s what you signed:

“By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services.”

“You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.”

I’m taking Eric Schmidt’s advice: I don’t have to use it.

He Looks Pretty Good Now, In Comparison

Checkers v. “I am not a crook”

I’M GOING TO TELL YOU A STORY

One of the greatest, and most infamous, examples of the power of storytelling occurred on this date 59 years ago. The world would little remember the details of the speech Richard Nixon delivered on Sept. 23, 1952 –in fact, would consider the campaign finance kerfuffle to be almost charming in contrast to today’s multimillion-dollar campaign binges — were it not for Tricia Nixon’s little dog, Checkers.

Yes, today is the anniversary of the Checkers Speech. It’s appropriate that we mark the occasion, because we’ve been thinking a lot lately about both storytelling and non-apologetic apologies.

Richard Milhouse Nixon was campaigning in 1952 for the vice presidency of the United States as the running mate of Dwight D. Eisenhower. (SPOILER ALERT: They won.) Someone discovered that Republican fat cats had established a secret $18,000 slush fund that “reimbursed” candidate Nixon for campaign expenses. Such slush funds were not uncommon or even illegal at the time, but some people were shocked — shocked! — that Nixon was accepting money and favors from people to whom he might later owe favors.

Nixon could have issued a denial. He could have released campaign finance ledgers. But instead, he held a half-hour live television special to tell his stories.

He started by talking about his modest upbringing in California, helping out at the family store. He talked about serving in World War II. He said he and Pat Nixon had $10,000 in savings — the equivalent of about $120,000 today — all in government treasury bonds. He and Pat didn’t invest in the stock market.

We lived rather modestly. For four years we lived in an apartment in Parkfairfax, in Alexandria, Virginia. The rent was $80 a month. And we saved for the time that we could buy a house. Now, that was what we took in. What did we do with this money? What do we have today to show for it? This will surprise you, because it is so little, I suppose, as standards generally go, of people in public life.

He talked about his two-year-old Oldsmobile, and about taking out loans from his parents, and about his mortgages, and his modestly furnished home in California, where his aging parents now lived.

Well, that’s about it. That’s what we have and that’s what we owe. It isn’t very much but Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we’ve got is honestly ours. I should say this—that Pat doesn’t have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she’d look good in anything.

THE ADORING AND SILENT WIFE

Pat Nixon sat in a chair off to the side, gazing adoringly at her husband as he continued:

One other thing I probably should tell you because if we don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me too, we did get something—a gift—after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-year-old—named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.

YOUNG DOG, OLD TRICKS

Get the name of the dog! It’s what I teach journalism students today. Get the details: Little girl, Tricia, 6 years old, has been wanting a dog, and here comes a surprise: a cute little black and white cocker spaniel. The kids love the dog. He would never disappoint the kids.

So no, he’s NOT going to apologize for accepting the black and white cocker spaniel that so delights his little girls. He is, in fact, even more determined than ever to keep doing exactly what he was doing before, despite the smears, the “misunderstandings,” because you know, darn it, he Loves His Country.

And as far as this is concerned, I intend to continue the fight. Why do I feel so deeply? Why do I feel that in spite of the smears, the misunderstandings, the necessity for a man to come up here and bare his soul as I have? Why is it necessary for me to continue this fight? And I want to tell you why. Because, you see, I love my country.

One of the television cameramen had tears streaming down his face. Nixon had invited a small crowd of Young Republicans to the television studio, and they cheered. Yet Nixon was convinced he had blown it.

Nixon biographer Stephen (“Undaunted Courage”) Ambrose wrote that the Checkers Speech was “one of the most sickening, disgusting, maudlin performances ever experienced.” But millions of Americans disagreed, flooding the Republican National Committee with telegrams, postcards, letters and phone calls in support. Checkers received truckloads of gifts: bones, ribbons, collars, a year’s worth of dog food. Nixon was hailed as “an honest man” by Mamie Eisenhower.

THE STORY ENDS

The slush fund? What slush fund? It was forgotten. Nixon celebrated the anniversary of “the fund speech” for years afterward. He said it saved his career and paved the way to his presidency.

But somewhere along the way he forgot the power of storytelling. Somewhere along the way, the Checkers Speech evolved into the succinct and less successful “I am not a crook.”

My Friend Gary

Remembering Gary Chapman

Posted by Peter Lewis | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 18-12-2010

Gary Chapman, a teacher and writer whose views helped define debates on the ethics of modern technology, died Dec. 14 while kayaking in the highlands of Guatemala. He was 58 years old and lived in Austin, Texas.

The cause was a heart attack, according to an emergency room physician who was a member of the kayaking team. But that cannot be. Those of us who knew Gary, and knew the size of his heart, suspect that he was simply so full of life that he floated away.

Gary was a Distinguished Lecturer at the University of Texas’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. He was also the founding director of The 21st Century Project at the University of Texas. The Project specializes in the social implications and trends of new developments in information technology. Its projects range from open government to reform of mental healthcare.

Before coming to Texas in 1993 Gary was executive director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, a public interest group formed by researchers and scientists at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and Stanford University to raise awareness of the potential risks of computer technology in weapons systems. The group gained international prominence for its opposition to the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as the “Star Wars” space-based anti-missile system), and soon expanded its efforts to influence public policy on nonmilitary issues including privacy, electronic voting systems, critical infrastructure, and telecommunications policy.

He was a nationally syndicated columnist on technology issues for The Los Angeles Times, and later wrote a column for The Austin American-Statesman. His writings also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Boston Globe, Technology Review, and other major publications. Although he was not trained as a computer scientist, he was a member of the selection committee for the Turing Award, administered by the Association of Computing Machinery and often described as the “Nobel Prize for computer science.” In announcing his appointment to the Turing selection committee, the ACM described Gary as “the leading thinker on the social implications of technology.”

I could go on and on about my friend’s many professional accomplishments and honors, but such lists create only a partial portrait of this extraordinary man. Here are some other things you should know about Gary:

He was deeply in love with Carol Flake, his wife and life partner. The only time I can remember him showing anger was when someone wronged her.

He and Carol were planning to meet at the Guatemalan Mayan ruin of Tikal on Dec. 21, the winter solstice, to witness the full lunar eclipse.

He was a talented artist, and was an art major in college before switching to political science.

He got drafted during the Viet Nam war. In boot camp, as a raw grunt, he refused a drill sergeant’s order that he said demeaned his fellow grunts. An officer ordered him to obey. “Sir, no SIR,” Gary said, displaying the integrity that was his hallmark for the rest of his life. “That’s an illegal order.” It was a test, and Gary was the only soldier in his barracks to refuse to comply. The officer plucked Gary from the group and, citing his display of character and leadership, recommended him for advancement.

He became a Green Beret in the Army’s Special Forces, and yet he was gentle and soft-spoken.

He was so soft-spoken most of the time that when he did erupt, it was memorable. Gary’s obituary in The New York Times recounted this tale: “Eric Roberts, a computer science professor at Stanford, recalled that at a C.P.S.R. board meeting on the Stanford campus in 1988, Mr. Chapman banged his fist on the table to make his case. “Just at that moment we had an earthquake,” Professor Roberts said, “and we all thought, ‘He commands forces greater than we know.’ ”

As a Special Forces soldier Gary saw the worst that men are capable of doing, and yet he was compassionate and optimistic and never lost faith in the essential goodness of humanity. He saw the hypocrisy of politicians and the venality of corporate executives and the incompetence of bureaucrats but never became cynical.

His eyes got wide with wonder when he saw or heard something that delighted him. And when he told you about it, his eyebrows shot up and his eyes widened even more and he laughed, and you couldn’t help laughing as well.

Dave, his favorite dog, made him laugh. He loved his dogs: Joey, Dave, Zippy, and Molly.

He would drive hours to talk to a group of farmers who were confused about a new plan for rural broadband access. He volunteered whenever needed to help bring computer technology to kids in East Austin and other economically deprived areas.

He was an extraordinarily talented cook. He appreciated fine wine. But he was not a wine snob.

He loved kayaking and loved being on the water. His friend Grant Thomas remembers a kayaking trip on the Guadalupe River when they stopped for lunch. “Another guy and I grabbed a couple of cheap beers, and here was Gary with a bottle of wine,” Grant says. Gary pulled out a corkscrew and a portable wine glass, the kind that comes in two parts. He screwed the stem into the bowl and popped the cork. “We couldn’t help but laugh and say, ‘That’s class right there,’ ” Grant says. “That’s how Gary was.”

He loved shooting at sporting clays and owned a custom-made Italian shotgun. But he didn’t hunt. He loved birds and nature. He and Carol made their home just a short distance from the river.

He built a shed for his collection of kayaks. Like everything else he did, it was classy.

He loved music. He somehow got Buffalo Springfield to play for his high school prom in California. He used to drive several hours round-trip from his Army base up to Ashbury Park, N.J., to hear a new group called Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.

He loved music, but was a lousy dancer opinions about his dancing ability varied. Couldn’t sing, either.

He and Carol loved Italy. They loved going to their favorite hotel on their favorite lake in northern Italy. They loved going to the outdoor opera in Verona.

But they also loved going to out-of-the-way bars in New Orleans to hear the music. Gary had an encyclopedic knowledge of bands and singers and songwriters.

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of just about any topic you could think of.

As his friend Jack Nokes says, Gary was brilliant and humble. “He was the smartest guy in the room but acted like he was just like everyone else,” Jack says.

We invited Gary to join our men’s book club just before a meeting. The book was Robert Wright’s “The Moral Animal,” and all the other guys in the group — professors, lawyers, doctors, writers, captains of industry, alpha males all –were enamored of it. Gary hadn’t read the book, but after we were done gushing he joined the conversation and for the next hour helped us dissect the arguments and implications of it, and basically shredded the author’s thesis on philosophical, scientific and feminist terms. It was a bravura performance.

Gary lifted almost every conversation to a higher, more interesting or more entertaining level.

He was prematurely gray. His hair was already going white when I first met him in the 1980s.

He suffered from tinnitus, a constant ringing in his ears. It drove him nuts. Being around the roar of falling water gave him some relief.

He never quite grasped the concept of a firm handshake. It drove us nuts.

No matter what he did, he always did it well. He always concocted the best costume for our annual Mardi Gras party. And he always made the best mix tapes for the Mardi Gras party dance music.

Gary said he used to think of success in terms of prestige or power or money. But recently, he told Carol, he came to realize that success, for him, was making a difference in the lives of his students. He loved working with kids and agonized over whether he was reaching them. He devised games and exercises to help them learn. One of his students, a tough kid from a tough part of Houston, was probably the first in his family not just to go to college, but to graduate from high school. He struggled with college work. Gary told him, “I’m probably not going to give you a grade better than a C, because you don’t have the writing and reading skills that other kids have who had more resources growing up than you, but if you work with me, I promise I’ll make you a better student.” The kid showed up whenever Gary had office hours, sometimes to go over schoolwork, but most of the time just to talk. By the end of the semester he was writing better, and more important, excited and proud to be writing better. Gary was delighted to give him a B.

Gary spent hours writing letters of recommendation for his students, writing and rewriting, not satisfied until the letters were perfect.

He had an early flight on the morning he left for the whitewater kayaking trip to Guatemala. But, Carol said, he got up at 4 a.m. to finish a letter of recommendation he had promised to write for one of his students.

Gary wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I applied for a teaching job at Stanford, where he had taught years before, before he walked away from a Ph.D. in political science to take his job with Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

I got the job, and afterward asked the director of Stanford’s graduate journalism program why I was chosen over the other candidates. “It was the letter of recommendation from Gary Chapman, your friend at the University of Texas,” she said.

Kathryn and I had dinner with Gary and Carol just before he left for Guatemala. I’m grateful I had the chance to thank him for his help. Which, of course, he shrugged off with his aw shucks humility.

The other guys on the kayaking trip said Gary was stricken while paddling on a relatively quiet stretch of river. He was there one minute, as full of life as any man can be, and gone the next. It was a beautiful stretch of river, his fellow kayakers said, the kind of place that seems almost sacred in its beauty and peacefulness. A few minutes earlier, they said, Gary was as happy as they had ever seen him.

Heart attack? More likely, he just found himself in a place that was so close to heaven on earth that he just paddled on through.

Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Gary went to the river because he lived deliberately. He learned what life had to teach, and he became a great teacher. He loved Carol deeply and passionately. And she loved Gary. We all loved Gary.

And now, in death, he is teaching us about life, especially the most important lesson of all: Love is the most important thing there is.