Category Archives: Shit That Actually Matters

Five Golden Rules For Building Unsuccessful Products

One nice, cheeky quirk of Google is the ability to write one’s own epitaph upon departing, slapping a few words of sometimes salty wisdom on the out door. My former colleague Hodie Meyers bugged out just ahead of me & dropped a sarcastic fistful of Despair.com-worthy gems:

  1. Do things because they are possible
  2. Do many things at once and try to spread yourself thin
  3. Build the complete system before evaluating the idea. Call it MVP anyways
  4. Never let client feedback or user research distract you from your intuition
  5. And remember: It’s always more important that you launch something than that you create true value for your users and customers

“No One Is Coming. It’s Up To Us.”

“Everyone sweeps the floor around here.”

As I’ve noted many times, that core ethos from Adobe’s founders has really stuck with me over the years. In a similar, if superficially darker, vein, I keep meditating on the phrase “No One Is Coming, It’s Up To Us,” which appears in a sticker I put on the back of my car:

It’s reeeeealy easy to sit around and complain that we don’t have enough XYZ support (design cycles, eng bodies, etc.), and it’s all true/fair—but F that ‘cause it doesn’t move the ball. I keep thinking of DMX, with regard to myself & other comfortable folks:

I put in work, and it’s all for the kids (uh)
But these cats done forgot what work is (uh-huh)

Some brief & bracing wisdom:

Happy Monday. Go get some.

Nack to the Future: I’m returning to Adobe!

Well everything dies, baby, that’s a fact.
But maybe everything that dies, someday comes back…

I’m thrilled to say that seven years after heading out to “Teach Google Photoshop,” I’m returning to where my PM journey started in the year 2000. As the old saying goes, “You can take the boy out of Adobe, but…” As I said in 2019:

https://twitter.com/jnack/status/1133092641438986241

…and as I’d type my brain would autocomplete “[Google] Photos” to “Photoshop.” It’s funny, too: my Google orientation took place in Adobe’s former HQ in Mountain View, where the Photoshop vets at Google say they’d written Photoshop for Unix. I didn’t need a DeLorean to feel a time warp—but Google brought one to the party anyway:

It was quite the interesting journey (partially summarized here), and as you’d expect, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject. I hope to share those soon—but today is all about looking forward.

Sooo… what will I be doing? I can’t say much yet as 1) I don’t want to speak out of turn, and 2) I won’t officially start for two weeks (“Twooo weeeeks…!!”)

I can say, though, that I’ve been really excited by what I’ve seen from Adobe in the last couple of years (see innumerable previous posts), especially around Neural Filters, and I love that they’re exploring what one might call “AI-first creation tools.”

Now, if you ask me precisely what that means, I’ll yell “No one knows what it means—but it’s provocative! Gets the people GOIN’!!” 🙃 But seriously, any of us had it all figured out, it’d be boring and they wouldn’t need me. I’m what Larry Page might call “uncomfortably excited” to commit to the journey—to messing around & finding out. I can’t wait to team up with friends new & old—including a couple of amazing researchers who’ve also returned from tours at Google.

So, please watch this space for more details. In the meantime I’m due to fly to Chicago to start an epic road trip down Route 66 with my son, driving my dad’s ancient Miata all the way to California. Stay tuned for what’ll be an almost punitive number of pics & vids. 😌

And with that—let the new adventures begin!

Google turns offices into vaccination sites, dedicates $150M to education & access

I love seeing people with the means—material, technical, organizational—to help fight the pandemic stepping up to do so. As one step:

To help with vaccination efforts, starting in the United States, we’ll make select Google facilities—such as buildings, parking lots and open spaces—available as needed. These sites will be open to anyone eligible for the vaccine based on state and local guidelines. We’ll start by partnering with health care provider One Medical and public health authorities to open sites in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area in California; Kirkland, Washington; and New York City, with plans to expand nationally. We’re working with local officials to determine when sites can open based on local vaccine availability. 

Google is also adding $150 million to previous commitments around education & access:

Our efforts will focus heavily on equitable access to vaccines. Early data in the U.S. shows that disproportionately affected populations, especially people of color and those in rural communities, aren’t getting access to the vaccine at the same rates as other groups. To help, Google.org has committed $5 million in grants to organizations addressing racial and geographic disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations, including Morehouse School of Medicine’s Satcher Health Leadership Institute and the CDC Foundation.

Fight on. 💪

How Google is helping firefighters & communities battling blazes

I often say there’s “working at Google” and then there’s “WORKING AT GOOGLE.” I of course just “work at Google,” but folks like this are doing the latter. With so many Google & Adobe friends directly affected & evacuating, I love seeing smart folks putting their talents & resources to work like this:

Check out the Google blog for lots of interesting info on how all this actually works. It’s now showing up in specific new features:

Today we’re launching a new wildfire boundary map in Search and Maps SOS alerts in the U.S. to provide deeper insights for areas impacted by an ongoing wildfire. In moments like a growing wildfire, knowing exactly where a blaze is underway and how to avoid it is critical. Using satellite data to create a wildfire boundary map, people will now see the approximate size and location right on their phone or desktop. 

When people look for things like “wildfire in California” or a specific fire like “Kincade fire” in Search, they will be able to see a wildfire’s approximate boundary of the fire, name and location, as well as news articles and helpful resources from local emergency agencies in the SOS alert. 

On Google Maps, people will have access to the same details, including the fire boundary, and receive warnings if they’re approaching an active blaze. If someone is exploring an area near a wildfire on Google Maps, they’ll get an ambient alert that will point them to the latest information.

John Lewis’s final words, as read by Morgan Freeman

Might be the best five minutes you’ll spend today:

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

The essay’s text appears in the New York Times.

A few smart career tweets

I’m now thinking about this constantly:

This too:

And yeah, ¬”Satisfaction, but feeling of uselessness…”

Adobe previews tools for detecting object manipulation

Back in 2011, my longtime Photoshop boss Kevin Connor left Adobe & launched a startup (see NYT article) with Prof. Hany Farid to help news organizations, law enforcement, and others detect image manipulation. They were ahead of their time, and since then the problem of “fake news” has only gotten worse.

Now Adobe has teamed up with Twitter & others Content Authenticity Initiative, and last night they previewed Project About Face, meant to help spot manipulated pixels—and even maybe reverse the effects. Check it out:

NewImage

[YouTube]

Google announces the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history

Heck yeah:

This purchase is made up of a 1,600-megawatt (MW) package of agreements and includes 18 new energy deals. Together, these deals will increase our worldwide portfolio of wind and solar agreements by more than 40 percent, to 5,500 MW—equivalent to the capacity of a million solar rooftops. Once all these projects come online, our carbon-free energy portfolio will produce more electricity than places like Washington D.C. or entire countries like Lithuania or Uruguay use each year.

Our latest agreements will also spur the construction of more than $2 billion in new energy infrastructure, including millions of solar panels and hundreds of wind turbines spread across three continents. In all, our renewable energy fleet now stands at 52 projects, driving more than $7 billion in new construction and thousands of related jobs.

NewImage

Google is giving away 100,000 Home Minis to people living with paralysis

Particularly as the uncle of a little dude who uses a wheelchair, this news makes me very happy & proud:

Google  announced this morning via blog post that it has partnered with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to give away 100,000 Home Mini units to people living with paralysis. The news is designed to mark the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law on this day in 1990.

There’s a form on Google’s site for people who qualify and their caregivers. Interested parties must live in the United States to receive a unit.

[YouTube]

The amazing Google Live Transcribe is here

Having watched my teammate Dimitri use Live Transcribe in meetings for the past year, I’m super excited to see it arrive:

[It’s] a free Android service that makes conversations more accessible through real-time captioning, supporting over 70 languages and more than 80% of the world’s population.

Here’s a deeper look into how it works.

Paul Thurrott writes,

Given my experience with my deaf son, who uses cochlear implants, lip-reading, and sign language to communicate with others, I can tell you that these apps—unlike certain misguided Microsoft accessibility efforts, like Cortana screeching during Windows Setup—address real-world problems that impact many, many people. And that they are, thus, both well-intentioned and truly useful. Bravo, Google.

[YouTube]

Accelerate machine learning through new TensorFlow Lite GPU

I’m thrilled to say that the witchcraft my team has built & used to deliver ML & AR hotness on Pixel 3, YouTube, and beyond is now available to iOS & Android developers:

For Portrait mode on Pixel 3, Tensorflow Lite GPU inference accelerates the foreground-background segmentation model by over 4x and the new depth estimation model by over 10x vs. CPU inference with floating point precision. In YouTube Stories and Playground Stickers our real-time video segmentation model is sped up by 5–10x across a variety of phones.

We found that in general the new GPU backend performs 2–7x faster than the floating point CPU implementation for a wide range of diverse deep neural network models.

A preview release is available now, with a full open source release planned for the near future.

I often note that I came here five (five!) years ago to “Teach Google Photoshop,” and delivering tech like this is a key part of that mission: enable machines to perceive the world, and eventually to see like artists & be your brilliant artistic Assistant. We have so, so far to go, and the road ahead can be far from clear—but it sure is exciting.

* One Song

“Please, please don’t come to Google and waste your time.”

I tell this to promising interview candidates. That is, I hope they come here, but it’s waaaaay too easy to fall into a velvet fog: you get free food, good money, something for your parents to brag about… but you wake up one day and realize that you’re polishing some goddamn stupid widget 9 levels deep in who-knows-what system, and you think, “Is this why I was put on earth?” This doesn’t have to happen, and indeed people often do amazing things instead—but it’s anything but guaranteed.

I always think of the amazing monologue in Walk The Line (starts around 1:30 in the clip below). If you had one song to sing before you’re dirt, are you telling me this would be it?

Now go find your song & sing the hell out of it.

Filed under “Shit That Actually Matters.”

Adobe previews new selection hotness

Wanna feel like walking directly into the ocean? Try painstakingly isolating an object in frame after frame of video. Learning how to do this in the 90’s (using stone knives & bear skins, naturally), I just as quickly learned that I never wanted to do it again. Thankfully tools like Rotobrush have come to After Effects, but like Quick Select in Photoshop, it was always pretty naive—never knowing what it was looking at.

Upon joining Google in 2014, I saw some amazing early demos of smarter techniques to isolate objects in video. While trying (unsuccessfully) to bring the tech to Google Photos, I kept hucking research paper links over the fence to my Adobe pals saying, “Just in case you’re not already looking into this—please get on it!” I always figured they were.

Smash cut to 2018. I finally get to work with those folks I met in 2014, bringing fast segmentation to Pixel 3 (powering selfie stickers, accelerating Portrait Mode) and beyond. Meanwhile Adobe is publishing their own research and showing how it might come soon (🤞) to After Effects. Check out this rad demo:

Meanwhile, if you want to try some of this hotness today, check out Select Subject—which is likely already in your copy of Photoshop!

NewImage

[YouTube 1 & 2]

“Persuasion & Control”: A dark, bracing podcast

“Like a meeting room that simply seeks to prolong the meeting”—so says writer Zeynep Tufekci of Facebook, YouTube, and other sites that seek to maximize their command of your attention. In this conversation with Sam Harris she explains, among other things…

  • how machine learning draws us towards the edges of discourse (because that’s simply what we’re most likely to click)
  • how political campaigns can (and now do) target specific people (e.g. black men in Philadelphia in 2016) in order to depress their votes
  • how marketers could detect a manic-depressive person’s manic upswing & comp him airline tickets to Vegas, knowing that he’s most vulnerable to blowing all his money
…and more. It’s fascinating, dark stuff that should give pause to all of us—especially those of us who merrily work to extract more & more insights into individuals, in order to better shape their behavior (for good, we swear…).

Sam Harris speaks with Zeynep Tufekci about “surveillance capitalism,” the Trump campaign’s use of Facebook, AI-enabled marketing, the health of the press, Wikileaks, ransomware attacks, and other topics.

Merry f’ing Christmas.

NewImage

Quality, quantity, and how Instagram is evolving

Take a human desire,” says Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, “preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”

It’s interesting to think about this as Instagram’s identity has evolved in a “lol nothing matters” Snapchat world. (I initially typed “Snapshat”; Freudian?). Founder Kevin Systrom used to like to describe the product as “a visual walkie talkie,” but plainly that wasn’t true. As their head of product Kevin Weil said, “It became a place where people kept raising the bar on themselves in terms of the quality of what they had to achieve to post. We didn’t want that.” If you haven’t yet, listen to the This American Life episode about teenage girls’ Instagram anxiety referenced in “The Instagram lobster trap.”

Anyway, Instagram has found that lowering the bar—creating an impermanent, low-stress complement to one’s highlight reel—is key. They need bottom-up activity to make things work:

“Your connections with your friends and your family are the thing that make Instagram work. All the data supports that if you follow more friends and engage with your friends, your activity goes through the roof. If you just follow more celebrity content or more interest-based content, that doesn’t move the needle at all.” – Kevin Systrom, Instagram co-founder

You should read Benedict Evans’s observations (starts dry, but solid) about all this. Among them:

There are millions of people who will post beautiful pictures of coffee or 1960s office blocks, or like a photo by a celebrity, but there are billions who’ll share a snapshot of their lunch, beer, dog or child. Instagram is moving to capture that in the same way Messenger and WhatsApp captured chat.

Seriously, it’s worth the read.

NewImage

Be the user

i.e., Don’t build me some wishy-washy bullshit

“How come the Mac group produced Mac and the people at IBM produced the PCjr? We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.” — Steve Jobs, 1985

I know, I know: “You are not the user,” and “The truth is outside the building.” But as I counseled teammates today, if [productivity product X] isn’t addressing your personal, specific, Googler needs, figure out why & fix it. Pick a personal destination that’ll make you happier & more productive at work, then laser-burn your way to it.

That is a critical user journey.

NewImage

Instagram finally adds collections

I’ve been expecting this one for years:

Tap and hold the bookmark icon underneath any post to save it directly to a collection. You can create and name a new collection when you save a post, or you can add it to one you’ve already created. 

Instagram continues to redefine creativity—away from strictly posting a few best shots, and towards:

  1. tossed-off ephemera (stories) and
  2. curation (a la Pinterest—drag the shiny-shiny back to decorate your cave).

This is going to be a license to print money: Let Kylie Jenner (or mouth-breathing celebretroid of one’s choice) create collections of merchandise that hang off the main profile & enable instant purchasing. Hopefully it’ll also benefit individual photographers, by offering a crazy-simple way to buy prints. Stay tuned.

NewImage

[Via]