What do we do when Google shuts down Google Groups? I have no particular information that Groups is about to get the axe but I sure wouldn’t bet on it sticking around. Google is shutting down social products that don’t fit their Google+ strategy. And Groups has never gotten much love; it's poorly staffed and the product keeps getting worse. (The site is still touting “the new Google Groups” that’s over two years old; some of the links documenting the “new” features don’t even work!)

The obvious casualty of a Groups shutdown are the communities that use Groups to communicate. But there’s plenty of alternatives: Yahoo Groups, Facebook, maybe even Google+. These products aren’t great; despite how lousy Google Groups is a lot of people still choose it. But I think the market will provide. Migration would be easier if Google offered data export: I think you can get list members but not messages.

But the unique thing Groups has, the thing that’s really important, is the historical Usenet archive that grew out of the Deja News purchase and later supplemented with other donated archives going back to 1981. Usenet is a pale shadow of its former self, but in the pre-Web days Usenet was the place on the Internet for people to communicate. A lot of science, culture, and community happened there and Google has the only easily accessible copy.

Google’s Usenet archive is important, but it’s not commercially valuable. And Google hasn’t been very trustworthy in keeping products like that around. I’d love to see a plan announced now, before there’s a fire drill, to gift a copy of the Google Usenet archive for preservation. The Internet Archive would be a good steward, or maybe the Library of Congress. Someone whose mission is to safeguard the world’s information, not just sell targeted advertisements on it.

Update: Jason Scott pointed me to archive.org's version of the University of Toronto Usenet archive for 1981—1991. It's not complete and Google did a lot of improvement, but it's one of the most important sources for early Usenet. It's great it lives outside of Google Groups.
  2013-03-27 16:10 Z

I have no idea how I find new music anymore, but here’s two mix tapes I’ve been listening to a lot lately thanks to mentions on Metafilter.

Nicolas Jaar uses techno mixing techniques to work slow tempo music into lyrical, meditative pieces. His two hour set on BBC Essential Mix is absolutely amazing, an eclectic and fresh mix of various music that’s incredibly thoughtful. Jaar also runs the Clown & Sunset label. (MeFi thread).

DJ Shadow is justly famous for his crate digging and hip-hop derived mixing, although honestly other than Endtroducing I haven’t like much in his CD releases. But the All Basses Covered set is absolutely fantastic. He was infamously kicked off the decks after 20 minutes at a stupid South Beach club for being “too future”. Happily he cleaned up the set and put it online. It has a lot of depth and humor; the chopped & screwed Simpsons theme is particularly clever. (MeFi thread).

  2013-03-22 22:21 Z

Ken and I went to Hawaiʻi for a week for my birthday. The big island, at a fancy tourist resort, my first time ever. It was lovely but also a bit boring, next time I go I’ll do it differently.

The great thing about Hawaiʻi is that it’s easy to visit and is absolutely beautiful. I totally get why people go there in the winter, to get some warmth and sun and relaxation. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hualālai which was excellent if outrageously expensive. The problem with a resort like that is it’s disconnected from the real place. And as nice as it is to have your big decision of the day be which of the four pools you hang out by, that’s not really my kind of vacation.

So we escaped The Village and drove all over the Big Island. Saw lots of things, honestly many not very exciting. I was particularly frustrated that the archaeological sites didn’t have more to see. My favorite things were the amazing botanical garden near Hilo, the town of Waimea, finding great macadamia nuts, and a helicopter tour whose highlight was flying into the narrow canyons west of the Waipiʻo Valley. The Kīlauea volcano would have been better if we spent more time.

But what I missed was seeing a real place, getting more in to local culture and food and history. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t plan to visit other islands, in particular to go to Oʻahu to see the Big City, go to Pearl Harbor, and to accept my anthropologist friend’s offer to tour the Bishop Museum. Next time. (Incidentally, the TSA security theater is an enormous burden to inter-island travel. 30 minute flight, 90 minute security.)

PS: the Hawaiian language is fascinating: only 8 consonants and one of them a glottal stop, but plenty of diphthong vowels. t and k are the same letter, so taboo becomes kapu. Only really lives on in place names. Hawaiian Pidgin is in active use, although I only heard it once.

  2013-03-19 15:14 Z

Yahoo shut Delicious down. (Well, they sold it to a new owner who made a mess of it.) A bunch of Delicious users jumped ship and signed up for Pinboard which was a lot like Delicious only better, cleaner, faster. It costs $10 (once!) and now Maciej is making a nice living running this little service for his loyal users. He’s not rolling in VC dough, he doesn’t have a staff of hundreds, I’m guessing he grosses roughly $100,000 a year. But he runs a great service for a dedicated, smart community. Pinboard is a success.

Before Google Reader dominated the scene there were a lot of competing feed readers that were little one man shops. But then Google launched something really excellent, and free, and that was the end of the feed reader market.

Now Google is shutting down Google Reader. It doesn’t make them the hundreds of millions of dollars they measure products by. There’s a large, vocal community of distraught users who are looking for somewhere, anywhere to go. There’s a few products that might fill that niche. Commercial products, cost a few bucks, could pay for the living of a couple of developers. Google Reader shutting down may be the best thing that could happen for them. It could make them a success.

  2013-03-14 04:44 Z
One of the reasons I like my dentist is the way they greet me when I come for an appointment. I walk in the door and the cheerful woman says "hello Nelson," like I'm a welcome guest. It immediately sets me at ease, takes the edge off the tooth-scraping to come. I only come in twice a year and they've recognized me from my second visit. It seems so natural it never occurred to me that kind of greeting takes effort.

How do they do it? They took my photo my first visit. And they only have two people coming in at any given time. So the receptionist knows to look up the next appointments, and look at their pictures, and create a friendly moment. So simple, so pro.

I've never seen any other customer service do this simple thing. Not my accountant, not my lawyer, not my doctor; there I'm some anonymous schlub who has to identify himself. Opportunity lost.

A few tech companies try to create this sense of personal service. Uber is awesome this way, from the greeting from your private driver to the rock star moment you walk out without handling payment. Square Wallet creates this feeling too; buy coffee with just your name. Great way to create customer good will.

  2013-03-03 23:48 Z