An Interview With Mike Elgan about Google+, Innovation, and Why He Uses an iPhone
By: Hillel Fuld (@hilzfuld)
Today, I am adding to the list of my role models who I had the opportunity to interview thanks to the social Web. You can see the others I have interviewed here.
If you, like me, spend most of your day reading/writing/talking about the world of tech and innovation, you must have come across the name Mike Elgan. Mike is first and foremost a journalist who writes for many online publications including Computerworld, Datamation, PC World, InfoWorld, MacWorld, ITWorld, CIO, the San Francisco Chronicle.
In case that was not enough, if Mike does not appear in the What’s Hot section of Google+, you might want to refresh your page, as clearly there is something very wrong.
Mike has perfected the art of social sharing with an emphasis on Google+. Not that numbers really matter but he has well over 2 million “followers” on Google+ and his content regularly goes viral. I have been following him across the web for years and it was a great privilege to interview him. Enjoy.
1: Who is Mike Elgan? Please give me some background, both person and professional.
I grew up in a small town near Santa Barbara, California. I was lazy and undisciplined about high school, and the opposite of that in college. I’ve always had a strong work ethic and worked full time through both high school and college. I was also diligent about surfing.
After graduating from UCLA, I got a job as an underpaid and overworked reporter for a newspaper company that published three newspapers in the Santa Barbara area.
Within a year or two, I was promoted to managing editor. Just as the company was moving from an old-school system where the newspapers were literally cut and pasted together (cut with razors and pasted with paste — I’m not kidding) then photographed for the printing press. The new system was a Macintosh-based networked publishing system.
After that process, I realized that I was far more interested in the tools of my trade (the computers) than the subject of our publications (water and land-use politics, city council meetings and so on) and that computer magazines existed as a career path. So I got a job at Windows Magazine, where I worked for almost the whole decade of the 1990s as managing editor, executive editor and editor-in-chief.
After that, I worked for a Silicon Valley startup, did some consulting, then went full time as a freelance opinion columnist about ten years ago.
Today I have the job I’ve wanted my whole life: I write opinions for a living and get to live anywhere in the world I want to.
2: You might not know but we share something in common, we both write for quite a few sites. What sites do you contribute to and what do you have to add about the model of writing for many sites?
I write for four publishers: IDG, Datamation, Cultomedia and Houzz. The obvious benefit is something like job security. If I lose one of them, I’ve still got three more. So I don’t have to worry about suddenly losing all my income.
I personally don’t think the status of the publication matters at all. My readers and followers care what I write about. I’m the “brand,” if you will. And people find my work even if they don’t know me via social and search.
What matters to me is the fee and also the “deal” I have with the publisher. I work only with editors who let me write anything I want, and who don’t try to push me in one direction or another.
In other words, I want to do whatever I feel like doing and I want others to pay me to do it. Is that asking too much? ; )
3: Lets talk Google+. You are huge. What are your thoughts on the platform, its chances of success, and its current weaknesses?
Google+’s chances for success are 99% (at this point, Google would have to decide to kill it for some reason, which they won’t do).
Google+’s biggest weakness is that it’s so powerful and flexible that some people feel overwhelmed by it. The second biggest weakness is the continued lack of third-party interfaces.
Google+’s biggest disadvantage is that Facebook has a “monopoly on everybody” — everybody’s on Facebook because everybody’s on Facebook.
4: So obviously, you are a huge fan of state-of-the-art innovation. What would you say is the most exciting technology you have held in your hand?
Google Now. It’s the best glimpse we have into the future of how humans interface with machines generally.
I’m also blown away by Google Translate, especially when applied to things like the Google Translate Chrome plug-in. When this sort of things works better software-wise, and when Google builds the functionality into Google+ for all browsers and clients (which I think they will, eventually), we’re facing a world in which everybody can interact regardless of language.
5: And the most exciting innovation of the next decade?
I’m most excited about what I call 3rd generation computing. (First generation was command-line; second was graphical computing.)
The computers we’ll all be using over most of the next decade will combine multi-touch, gestures, voice command and Google Now like assistant technology to create everyday computing that’s just like the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
6: What phone are you using and why?
I use an iPhone 5 because I believe it has the best camera, most elegant hardware design and engineering, the best app ecosystem and also because of all the crazy third-party add-on stuff (camera lenses, cases, etc.).
7: Talk to me about BlackBerry and Windows Phone. We have talked about this but do you think they have a chance of succeeding and please explain.
Yes, they have a chance. There will always be a minority of people who buy phones they like regardless of price, and a majority who will choose from among the cheapest phones.
So BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices are likely to slug it out indefinitely against Apple, Samsung and other players for the higher quality phones. But neither is ever likely to have two-digit market share. But they can still be successful.
8: As far as content, how would you suggest someone get started on the web building a brand around content?
Hyperspecialize. In other words, don’t do what I do. ; )
Carve out a niche and own it 100% by producing better and more content about that narrow topic than anyone else, then stick with it day after day, year after year.
Continue to pay attention to how people discover content and make sure your work is “sticky.” Just three years ago, people discovered content via search and links. Today’s it’s all social networking. Always figure out how to convert the people who discover you into subscribers or followers. (This, by the way, is why Google+ is the best blogging platform: It’s the most social and sticky place to post.)
9: Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I hope to keep improving my craft. I expect to be doing then what I’m doing now, plus books.
10: What is your take on Google and all the “x projects” including glass, the self driving car, and other stuff they are working on that is not part of their core offering?
I think it’s all good. I was super skeptical about the self-driving car, but had a turn-around on that and now I’m very optimistic about it. I’m still skeptical about Google Glass, but only because my fellow geeks think it will go mainstream, and I believe it will not. It’s still cool, though, and I want one.
Generally speaking, I love the Google founders’ whole approach to everything. They embrace Big Data in a big way, and are true believers in the power of algorithms. Mostly, though, they provide super valuable services, sell little ads for pennies, then take some of their billions and try to make the world a better place. It’s all good. I see Google as our generation’s Walt Disney.
Thanks Mike, was a pleasure and keep up the good work!