At The Next Web Conference, I have managed to get there early and stay in the front row. That was a wise decision since I was able to spot Robert Scoble and to conduct a small interview with him. He was very polite, yet, in many cases, he didn’t seem to take other opinions into consideration, despite its own. The interview was conducted straight after Andrew Keen’s speech, that I have written about in my the previous post about the first day impressions at TNW Conference 2012. You need to see Keen’s allocution in order to understand why I decided to start the interview like that.
Interview With Robert Scoble
Radu Tyrsina (RT) – Thanks for giving me this opportunity, Robert. Let’s start with this thing that Keen said, that he refers to as “digital narcissism”. It has a social and psychological meaning as there are people that don’t have a social life, they are introverts. Basically, the Internet is isolating and encircling many of its users. What are your comments? Is the internet, via the social networks, encircling us or they are actually connecting with each other?
Robert Scoble (RS) – I’ve been told this for 30 years. I found it to be the opposite. It’s like advertising for going out of the house and meeting people. You like to drink beers with your friends, go to a movie using the social network. Now if you’re paralyzed and you can’t leave the house, it gives you the chance to have a life outside your body.
The Online Filter Bubble – Bullsh*t
RT – A problem that concerns information right now is that it’s just too much and it’s very hard to remain “informationally sane”.
RS – I think that’s bullsh*t.
RT – Going back to what Eli Pariser said about the fact that there is an online filter bubble that’s closing the circle. They show us relevant searches, and deliver something that we want to see instead of being connected to the problems of the world.
RS – Like what?
RT – Let’s say my friend in Holland searches for Egypt. He’ll get some results relating to Egypt travels and if somebody searches from a different place, he’ll get a result with Egypt revolution. How ethical is that?
RS – I haven’t found that to be true, actually. I found that people who claim that to be true are lying to me. The information is there for you to care about it. Most of us don’t give a f**k about what’s going in Egypt. And that’s the real problem, that’s why there is a filter bubble. It responds to what you like. If you’re reading The Economist magazine, you can find it, it’s all there. If you’re not finding it, you’re just not doing enough search. If you go to Google News and write Egypt you are not going to get sh*t about tourism.
You have to be a better consumer. But I found most people don’t give a fuck about that. Only 20% of Americans have a passport. They really don’t care about the rest of the world. That’s the real problem. You want to solve the world’s problems, you have to change that. It’s not about a filter that’s keeping you from seeing sh*t. The real problem is that we don’t care about the rest of the world and we don’t care about the truth. We watch Fox New because we like entertainment, we don’t care about the truth. And if we cared about the truth, we wouldn’t have a filter bubble.
Consumers Don’t Care About the World
RT – I was suspecting you were going to say something like this.
RS – Yeah, because it’s bullsh*t, people lie. They don’t understand what the filters are doing. The filters are there so if you care about Egypt, you’re gonna see Egypt news. If you click or like on a Egypt protest on Facebook, you’re gonna start to see Egypt news. The real problem is that people don’t care about it.
RT – The real question is “when does one start to care”? Is it only when you are personally affected?
RS – That too and when you become more worldly. When you start viewing the world differently.
RT – Let’s move to more technical questions. What do you think about Google’s search updates and the fact that they’re playing around with so many websites. I personally know websites that provide – the thing that content is king is already bullsh*t – insightful, long articles about various subjects. Yet, they aren’t that popular, they don’t get a lot of traffic.
RS – Me too.
RT – There are so many websites that reiterate, rehash and still, they are on top.
RS – The world is not fair. The world doesn’t care about your 5000 words piece. When I do something about a historian or something like that, it gets 2000 views. When I do something cute, with the princess of Jordan, it gets 700, 000 views. The world is not fair, humans like entertainment, they don’t like the truth.
RT – Bread and circuses.
RS – I saw a guy reading USA Today on his iPad. It’s big macs. It’s not the New Yorker or The Economist magazine. That’s broccoli, and broccoli is not nearly as popular the big mac.
RT – They care about their immediate needs.
RS – They like McDonalds rather than broccoli. The problem is we want them to eat broccoli. I’m an educated person and I want to eat broccoli. But a lot of people around the world want to eat McDonalds. I take a picture of an Apple product and it gets 700, 000 views, right? Talk about something that changes the world and there’s 2000 people…It’s harder, it’s not horizontal. McDonalds is great for them because you get in with $3 and you get a big mac and consume it.
About DuckDuckGo and Aggressive Google Plus Promotion
RT – Let’s switch back to search engines. What do you think about DuckDuckGo. They’re coming with a fresh approach.
RS - I love them, they are on RackSpace (laughs)!
RT – There are many differences between a Google, DuckDuckGo and even an Yandex SERP. Why are they that different?
RS – The signals that they study. If you have 10 webpages, what do you put on the top?
RT – Google’s going with the personalized search idea.
RS – Well, a little bit, that’s not always true, but Google’s always been like that, right? The linking behavior – when you go to Google and you type Robert. Why am I no.3 for Robert? Why am I above Robert Redford, Robert de Niro, Robert Kennedy? These people are more important for society than me. I’m number 3 because more people link to my webpage, it’s popularity. Why is Justin Bieber more important than Barack Obama? Is he really more important than the president of the US? No!
But he’s more popular on the Internet and he gets more people to talk, link, like, share, retweet and post videos. He gets more people to care and that’s why the ratings on Google are going to be like that.
RT – Don’t you think Google is aggressively promoting Google Plus?
RS – No! No! Google is under attack from Facebook in a way that is very deep and very scary.
RT – They don’t seem to care too much about users in this war.
RS – Google is an advertising company. Its customers are not you and me. On Facebook we are a necessary ingredient to get advertisers.
RT – We are the data, the new oil.
RS – Yeah, and if we leave, that’s a big problem. The problem is that we’re leaving the Google World and going to Facebook. When I go to Facebook and I give it data about me, I am now and I am there and not on Google. The advertising dollars will flow to Facebook and not to Google. This is a huge problem for Google. So, no. Are they being too agressive? No, they have to! They don’t have a choice, otherwise they’re lose it.
RT – But aren’t they pushing it too hard?
RS – It’s better to push too hard and lose than to do nothing.
Facebook Will Their Own Search Engine
RT – How hard is it for Facebook to develop their own search engine. Look at DuckDuckgo, with a single man, they’ve manage to get traction…
RS – How many people use DuckDuckGo?
RT – It’s still rising, though.
RS – Yeah, give me a break…There’s a very, very small percentage of users. Ok, its traffic doubles, a penny doubles and you have two. Google has billions of pennies. You have a long way to go before you become a threat to Bing and Bing is not a threat to Google, right?
RT – Why isn’t Facebook making a real, its own, search box? Why don’t they transform their search box into a real search engine?
RS – Errr….
RT – Is it that hard?
RS – It’s hard to do a search engine. But, I don’t know that they need to do search. If I wanna go to sushi for dinner, I type Amsterdam sushi on Google and on Facebook I ask my friends.
RT – And if you don’t have enough friends?
RS – Ahm…..
RT – Or if you search for something very unusual – “how to mine asteroids”.
RS – Yeah… Ahmmm…I think they’ll get their, I just…it’s hard. The infrastuctures that they are built on are really different. I think you’re going to see Facebook do some kind of search like that. They need public data. The more data that we put into public, the better the search engine will be. Right now, they don’t have enough data.
RT – They could do a “social search engine” and extract relevant from past data of all your friends’ activity, if that’s possible.
RS – They will do that, they have other things right now. You don’t have to piss your users with too much. Facebook needs better mobile clients, they need to fix revenue. That’s more important than a search engine.
RT – That’ll come later, like the cherry on top.
RS – Yeah, that will come later.
RT – Thank you very much for you time, hope to meet again!
RS – Thank you, no problem!