At the San Francisco Social Networking Conference today, Steve Wozniak, Apple co founder and personal computer legend, shared some fascinating insights into the modern world of social networking and mobile phones.
I was able to organize a one on one interview with Steve (thanks Marc Lesnick & Mark Brookes!) and in the spirit of the conference's social networking roots Twittered a request for questions to ask Steve, which produced a great response...more on this later.
Wearing a fascinating looking tube valve watch (which didn't look like Apple's industrial design) Steve took to the stage and ran through a rapid history of modern personal computing from a very personal perspective.
While teaching 10 year olds - he left Apple in 1987 and was/is heavily involved with his local school district - Steve was telling his students to use the very early AOL service - seeing that it created great joy for his kids to share, and realize they were 'something in the world'.
There was discussion of the scaling realities of social networking for a famous name like Wozniak. The sheer volume of interaction on a social app Wozniak account eats time for someone of Steve's stature in responding to multiple interactions, with questionable value. Playing whack-a-mole with dozens of friend requests daily is a time sink - and huge numbers of 'friends' preclude serious interaction anyway.
Discussing design, Steve stressed the differentiator that user experience is all about the nuances of human experience, and that human centered design is core to intuitive products like the iphone (Wozniak claimed he will be lining up tonight for a 3g).
I asked a question from the floor about the benefits of standardization of mobile phone UI; Steve responded with the realities of service providers controlling much of mobile functionality. A fascinating talk, and as it was unfolding so were the Tweeted questions from around the world.
Later I was able to meet up with Steve to talk and also get his responses to the following questions:
@crc2008 @olivermarks question for iWoz: 'what is your vision for the mobile phone in eradicating poverty?'
Steve: didn't see a great connection, believing the roots out of poverty are step by step development of society. The phone is almost like a leap frog into a technology of the future. GPS could help to control Birthrate.
@ITSinsider what does he think the big opportunity missed is today for Apple? for MSFT? for IBM? for Google?
Steve: All big companies are working on so many things, and snap up smaller companies to get the technology, so he ddn't feel many opportunities are missed. He did wish they were doing more great things.
@sleepydog @olivermarks ideal world how would apple style/values affect the design of cars, cinema or second life - choose 1
Steve: With cars like Mercedes, BMW, Ferraris you're designed into the center of the world ergonomically, whereas cheaper cars tend to have a bunch of functionality with no rhyme or reason of where controls are located. Apple has a really good feel for what makes sense and don't put in a bunch of junk that doesn't make sense and are just confusing features.
With social apps it's the little nuances of human usability improvement that makes people move from one app to a better one. Devotion of getting every little detail working well is a huge differentiator.
Second Life is a little harder to answer, the main people behind it are the PC users. It's currently missing the human experience, but there are great opportunities to build 3D objects (which Steve is getting into).
@crc2008 @olivermarks what was the best thing you learnt from teaching 10year olds?"
Steve:Wow... I used to think everything in life should be fun, but when you're teaching, if you can get the kids motivated and they want to learn, they want to come to class, that's worth a lot more than what you teach them. The teaching content is worth less than motivating them.
@estherschindler @olivermarks: @asacco's q: How do location based services fit into the future of mobile social networking?
Steve: When we started hearing this idea of the push technologies ten years ago or so, it was the idea that when you were near stores that had items they could sell you, you would get pushed a movie or a coffee or whatever. It always sounded like something you should be wary of, and I've never seen it take off very well.
I was in Spain recently and was approached by a 15 year old kid who had a whole bunch of ideas about cell phones that keep track of your whole profile. What kind of computer and car you have, what kind of skills you have, and that you can look up people nearby that fit a certain profile. I love that people are thinking that way. Young people are the users, and that's who you have to really listen to.
Oliver Marks: How do you think you can make mobile usage a more human experience?
Well look, I can call anyone in the world from a cell phone and yet I can't share certain programs that tell me about you. That sort of thing doesn't exist in the infrastructure. Everyone's working on little apps and technologies but we've got to wrk on bigger issues - it might even be regulations and laws to make providers open up their ports to certain uses.
Look what happened to AT&T - the local phone companies had to make their circuits available to 3rd parties who wanted to come in with dsl to your house. The ideal would be for cell phone carriers to be just carriers of data but they can't filter it.
Cell companies currently deliberately have different standards to keep control....
Oliver Marks: Social media scaling is a huge problem...
Steve:Why do I want 5000 friends anyway? There's nothing I can do with that number of people.
There are certain sized groups that work really well for certain social situations, most of the people i talk to are in groups of about 30 people. There's sort of an ideal number for social networks that's actually round classroom size - if you get a group of people that size they just start forming friendships, socializing and learning what each other are about.
I was a shy person and I wish I'd had this world of today. On my computer I could have been the most outgoing person in the world I think. Watching a whole bunch of things going on online in chats and forums you can put in little comments, especially if the conversation touches on some product by coincidence you just got for Christmas for example...
And that was all the time I had with Steve - great opportunity and a fascinating day. Thanks for your time Steve if you've spared some more to read this!
Follow me on Twitter at @olivermarks if you'd like the opportunity to forward questions at future events!