Jul 11

Why I left Google. What happened to my book. What I work on at Facebook.

In the last couple of weeks there has been plenty of speculation around:
- Why I left Google
- What happened to my book ‘Social Circles’
- What I’m working on at Facebook
I never intended to write publicly about why I left Google, but it seems necessary to give people some facts that they can refer to, and not have people speculating and making stuff up.

Before I get into specifics, I want to say that I still hold tremendous respect for Google. I worked there for four years, loved the company, and busted a gut to help them ship great products. I learned an immense amount from a lot of very smart people.

I also want to remind people that this post is my own personal opinion – take it or leave it at face value.

I left Google for a variety of reasons

The main reason I left was that there was an opportunity at Facebook that I felt I couldn’t turn down (see section on my role at Facebook below). Having said that, there were other factors that made my decision to leave for a competitor easier. Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it’s very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level. Ultimately I felt that although my research formed a cornerstone of the Google social strategy, and I had correctly predicted how other products in the market would play out, I wasn’t being listened to when it came to executing that strategy. My peers listened intently, but persuading the leadership was a losing battle. Google values technology, not social science. I also moved because the culture had changed dramatically in the few years I was at Google. It became much more bureaucratic and political. I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into it here, and other ex-Googlers have written about this more eloquently than I could.

Google blocked me from publishing my book

Many of you have asked me why my book ‘Social Circles‘ was delayed, and why it has been removed from Amazon. I wrote the book in collaboration with Google, and in June 2010 they officially gave me written permission to publish it. The book content, the title, and the cover all existed prior to Emerald Sea (Google+). However, after the PR frenzy around the leaking of the project in July 2010, Google verbally rescinded permission to publish, and blocked me from publishing until after Google+ launched. I understood and respected their decision at the time. However, they continue to block it. Now that Google+ has launched, I honestly can’t see why they don’t respond to my emails requesting permission to publish. The book contains no proprietary information, it is based almost entirely on research from 3rd parties (mostly universities) and any Google research referenced is already in the public domain.

The goal of the book was simple: to take the complex body of academic research about social behavior, and make it accessible to the many designers, developers and marketers who need to know this stuff. The industry needed this book. You might say I’m trying to organize some of the worlds information and make it universally accessible :) The irony that Google is blocking this endeavor is not lost on me.

The good news is that I’m channeling this frustrating experience towards a better place, and am writing a new book. It’s called Grouped, and it’ll be out in a few months.

Some people have wondered whether my Real Life Social Network deck was leaked. It wasn’t. I first presented it months before Emerald Sea had started. I had permission from Google to present, and nobody internal really cared at the time.

At Facebook I work on our advertising products

For many years I have been interested in how people decide what to buy, own and use. I’ve been fascinated by the world of branding, and how people pass on information about brands and products to people they know. I’ve always had a desire to work in this world.

I believe that the web is being fundamentally rebuilt around people and the world of advertising will fundamentally change because of the emergence of the social web. I want to be part of creating that change, and the best place to do that is at Facebook. I joined Facebook as a Researcher, but have since transitioned to be a Product Manager, and I look after our user facing advertising products. Or as I prefer to say, I’m helping figure out better ways for people and businesses to communicate, and better ways for people to communicate to their friends about businesses. I love my new job, love Facebook, and have absolutely no regrets about moving. It has been the best career decision I’ve made.

I don’t work on Groups or Friend Lists but I don’t need to – I have a lot of respect for the people who do. They know their stuff, and believe me, they are working to make the best product possible.

Thanks for reading, now people have some facts. Take them or leave them at face value.

Update 13th July
When I said “the industry needed this book”, it’s not because I have some kind of ego and think the book is a masterpiece as some have suggested. I’m sure it’s not. It’s just a simple book about social behavior. I said it was needed because there is vast amounts of rich data about social behavior locked up in academic papers that the masses don’t have time to read.

Jul 11

This is just the beginning

Disclaimer reminder: I currently work at Facebook and worked on Google+ up until the end of 2010. This post does not reflect anything I did at Google, or anything I’m doing at Facebook, and is simply my personal opinion about the state of the world.

Since Google+ launched last week, many people have been asking me my opinion about it. Unfortunately I can’t talk about specifics (hello, non-disclosure agreements) but I can talk broadly about the state of the world.

When it comes to representing relationships online, there are two big questions:
1. Our offline relationships are very complex. Should we try and replicate the attributes and structure of those relationships online, or will online communication need to be different?
2. If we do try and replicate the attributes of our relationships, will people take the time and effort to build and curate relationships online, or will they fall back to offline interactions to deal with the nuances?

We’re only at the beginning of trying to answer these questions. Google+ is a well designed product, but it is not “the solution” to the problem of representing complex relationships online. In fact, there probably isn’t “one solution”.

If you think about the first question above, Google+ is both trying to replicate offline social network structures (with circles) and build social network structures that are unique to the online world (with following, and with the fact that anyone can add anyone to a circle, independent of whether these people have met offline). Is this the best approach? No-one knows. If history has taught us anything, it’s that trying to predict the future is a fools game. Especially when that future is wrapped up in complex relationships and network effects. Remember, this is just the beginning.

The second question is the big unanswered one. Most user experience problems can be defined with the simple equation: Is the effort I need to go through worth the perceived benefit? Is the effort of creating circles, and managing them over time, worth the perceived benefit of sharing to those circles? Is the effort of figuring out who is in the audience of someone else’s circle worth the perceived benefit of the value derived from commenting? Again, no-one knows the answer to this question. But it’s going to be fascinating to see it play out.

Finally, it’s worth noting a trend that will make the task of representing relationships online even harder. Many fields of science are starting to discover that most of our behavior is driven by our non-conscious brain, not by our conscious brain. This refutes much of our understanding of how the world works. When we meet people, for the first time, or for the ten thousandth time, there are far too many signals for the conscious brain to take in, analyze, and compute what to do. So our non-conscious brain does the analysis for us, and delivers a feeling, which determines how we react and how we behave. It’s our non-conscious brain that will be deciding which social network succeeds and which one fails. It’s going to take most, if not all, of our lifetime to figure out what is happening in the non-conscious brain. This is just the beginning.