Speaking of what’s in my dock, why are all application developers still using blue as their primary icon color? I know I’m not the first person to complain about this, but it’s really out of control.

Because it’s so wide-spread, applications with more colorful icons (in this case, Reeder, Chrome and iA Writer) stand much more and look less generic. Icon designers: It’s time to quit blue for a while. It’s okay. There are other colors out there.

What are we supposed to do with Google+?

I find Google+ confusing. Not its features or its design, but rather how I’m meant to use it. I find myself regularly asking the following questions:

  • Is Plus simply Google’s version of Facebook? Maybe. But if that’s the case, does that mean I should switch from Facebook to Google+? And if I do that, what about the people in my Facebook friends list who don’t also switch to Google+… should I leave them behind?
  • Is Plus Google’s attempt to create an additional social networking site that appeals to people who do not like Facebook or like Google’s design sense and tools/infrastructure more? Maybe. But if that’s the case, is there really a user base large enough when you remove anyone using Facebook? And if not, won’t that keep Google+ niche? And if it’s niche, doesn’t that sort of destroy the purpose of a social networking site? And also, would Google+ really appeal to someone who dislikes Facebook when, at its core, it offers most of the same features and functionality?
  • Is Plus an experiment? Maybe. But there sure are a lot of talented people working on it. Then again, I’m sure the Wave team was loaded with smart people. And if it’s an experiment, what is it trying to test? Whether or not people want a different social network? And also, if the experiment proves people do want an alternative, is Google+ the best one? Will that guarantee its success?

I don’t know the answer to any of these. I know Google+ is mostly well designed. I know it has a few interesting features (circles and hangouts) and a few problems (incoming is basically easy spam). I know I have 189 people in my circles and that 1,494 have me in theirs. But I’m not sure what this all means.

What it boils down to for me is this: When I go to post a photo, where do I put it? Flickr, of course, because that’s where I put photos. But then there are lots of people (family, old co-workers, et cetera) who don’t have Flickr accounts. And I want them to see these photos. So I put them where everyone is. These days, that’s Facebook. But should I also put them on Google+? And where does this end? They’re on my blog, too. Do I draw the line and say, hey, thanks for following me on Google+, but you should really just subscribe to my Facebook account or check out my website or hit my Flickr stream? Do I really want yet another place of content I have to manage? Is Google+ ever going to beat Facebook in the sense that most of my friends and loved ones will use that service instead? And if not, is there a point to putting anything there at all?

I’m not sure.

Gowalla 4 and Loss of Personal Milestone Data

I’ve been using Gowalla since its launch in 2009. Between Foursquare and Gowalla, the latter always seemed more interesting to me in that it took the common check-in functionality and added a fun layer of collection. You collected and traded “items” (basically, icons) and earned “pins” (state pins, country pins, achievement pins) in addition to simply informing your friends of your location.

People frequently ask why I bother checking in. Most of my local friends don’t do it, so why do I care? What I realized after using the service for a time was that I enjoy the data collection aspect. Checking into every place I visit creates a breadcrumb trail of my daily life. The restaurants I’ve eaten at, the museums I’ve visited, the trips I’ve taken to other states—I enjoyed having a large list of my adventures. While Gowalla’s items were a fun addition, the real objects I enjoyed collecting were pins, since they marked larger milestones (visiting a new state or country, checking into 300 places, et cetera).

For nearly three years, I’ve checked in using Gowalla. I earned loads of pins, saved loads of items, and checked in at over 500 places. Recently, Gowalla launched an all new direction with version 4.0. This version steps away from the straight-forward check-in functionality and replaces it with a more social version called “stories”. The basic idea is that you create a story at a location, tag your friends, upload photos and comment. I think this is a terrific idea, and I think it’s something relatively unique in the check-in app space.

But it’s not what I want.

Most of the time when I check in, I’m the only person around who cares about such things. Otherwise it’s Shawn. Rarely (convention, trip, SXSW) it’s others. But 99% of the time, it’s just me recording my daily travels. Recently I joked, when creating a “story” in Gowalla 4.0 at a West Elm in Santa Monica, that I was “finally starting that life story about being at West Elm.” It was a jerky reaction to the new direction, but also an accurate summing up of how strange simple check-ins feel in the new version.

I have several friends who work at Gowalla and I think they’re all super talented people. I think the Gowalla app is nicely designed and I support their direction. It’s just a shame, because it no longer appeals to me. That part I can live with. The unfortunate thing about switching to another service (in this case, Foursquare), is that I’m losing so much data history. Most of my friend connections are set on Gowalla—I’ll need to add those again. Most of my 500+ checkins don’t exist in Foursquare—I’ll lose those. At the end of the day, changing services feels much harder than simply deciding which UI or features I like. I have to give up most of the past.

This is a good lesson for me. I take for granted often how fleeting these services are. Whether they go out of business, get acquired, or simply change their feature set, any service you trust to hold your data is possibly temporary. The only real way to secure future access to your important moments is to keep them yourself, or at least back them up in a way you’ll be able to continue accessing.

Ten Years

I was across the street working in World Financial Center 2 the morning of September 11, 2001. I heard the second plane hit, heard the explosion, and for a moment thought I was going to die. But I didn’t.

I walked out of the building alongside hundreds of others and looked across the street at two burning skyscrapers, amazed and horrified, confused and nervous. We watched as people leapt to their deaths to avoid burning and heard the sound of human bodies hitting concrete after falling 70 stories. We stood, unable to help, unsure what to do next. And then we fled the city. I was on a train in NJ when someone announced the first tower had fallen.

For the next month, I couldn’t sleep without nightmares. I became a news radio junkie. I developed troubling, severe anxiety. I wondered if I would ever feel comfortable on a plane or in a tall building again. I read countless stories about the day and couldn’t stop looking at photos that made me sob. I spent several months unemployed, sitting at home in front of my computer all day, truly depressed for the first time in my life. Everything felt broken and wrong and terrifying. I wasn’t sure how to get back to my normal life.

Little things helped. Spending time with friends, finding a crummy job that gave me somewhere to go every day, something to do with myself. Family. Eventually, I began to heal. I moved to Brooklyn. I passed the WTC site every time I went to see a movie at my favorite theater. I rode the subway without constant fear of terrorism. I flew more and more to various cities in the US, first with the help of large doses of Xanax and then more and more without it. I began to feel comfortable in the world again. I fell even more in love with the city I had always dreamed of living in.

I spent the majority of this past decade living in New York City. The same city I fled that morning, the same city I came back to a few months later, worried but defiant. The city I truly grew up in, for better or worse. I’ve moved away now, but New York City will always be my home.