The Apple Matters Interview: John Battelle
John Battelle is an entrepreneur, journalist, professor, and author. Currently founder and chairman of Federated Media Publishing, Battelle is also a founder and executive producer of conferences in the media, technology, communications, and entertainment industries and “band manager” with BoingBoing.net.
Previously, Battelle was founder, chairman, and CEO of Standard Media International (SMI), publisher of The Industry Standard and TheStandard.com. Prior to founding The Standard, Battelle was a co-founding editor of Wired magazine and Wired Ventures. He is the author of The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture an excellent read for anyone who wants to understand the impact of web search and Google.
Google’s impact on the web in the past few years cannot be understated (it is amazing to think that Google is only a few years old!). John Battelle’s book is a fascinating look at the rise of search as the primary mode of interacting with the web and anyone who has an interest in technology and its impact on the broader culture should pick it up (it makes a great gift too!).
The book is also an interesting read in the context of Apple. There are, after all, many similarities between the rise of Apple and Google (and indeed many technology companies).
As search spreads to the desktop via Apple technologies like Spotlight and Google’s Desktop Search (Windows only) John answers questions concerning possible synergy’s between the two companies and why Apple Matters.
Hadley Stern: What was your first experience with the Macintosh?
John Battelle: I had a job beta testing software for a small developer when I was an undergrad at Berkeley. Circa 1984. It was mostly IBM PC stuff, but then they asked if I had access to a Mac to test a new typing program they were developing. I knew that a friend had a new mac, so I borrowed it. When I saw the fingers typing on the screen, it changed my view of what computers can do forever.
Hadley Stern: Has/Will search replace the current folders and files metaphor of the Mac?
John Battelle: It’s a new interface layer on top of it, and to my mind a far more intuitive and natural one.
Hadley Stern: Is Apple’s spotlight an innovation, or just following what has been evolving in the marketplace with Google’s desktop tool?
John Battelle: A bit of both. I find it very useful in mail, and less so elsewhere. But it was about time we had this - I used to have a text search tool for the Mac back in 1988, it was called Gopher I think, and it worked great.
Hadley Stern: Is there anything you think Apple could learn from Google? Anything Google can learn from Apple?
John Battelle: Don’t get me started! I have to say, the most frustrating thing about Macs is the willingness to crash and restart. Yeah, I know that was supposed to go away with Tiger, but it has not. And man Microsoft Office is so terrible and non standard and bloated and buggy, it’s hard to know where to start.
But as to what Apple might learn from Google, I’d say experiment a bit more. It’s feeling a bit monolithic over at Apple lately - it only comes out if it’s just so.
Google could learn how to handle relationships with the media and entertainment world from Apple.
Hadley Stern: Does it bother you that Google doesn’t release a lot of its tools for the Mac platform?
John Battelle: Yes.
Hadley Stern: In many ways the Google story of taking the goto.com model and applying it in a more successful way is similar to Apple’s use of Xerox, is innovation just a matter of seeing someone else’s idea and making it work?
John Battelle: And making it better, don’t forget. Google made Goto much better. Windows wasn’t better per se, but certainly more standard.
Hadley Stern: 10 years from now are people going to be more concerned with how they find something rather than the platform they use (or maybe we are already there already?).
John Battelle: I certainly think so. The PC becomes an access tool, and the OS will compete on standard functions and neat add ons which enhance the Internet-based experience.
Hadley Stern: Do you see any opportunity for Apple and Google to work together?
John Battelle: Apple is becoming a major media and entertainment company, and hopes to be the “front end” to these areas for the majority of consumers. Google does as well. I am quite sure they could figure out ways to work together on this - after all, their original logos are awfully similar!
Hadley Stern: Can Google learn anything from the success of the iPod?
John Battelle: I’m not sure they want to be a hardware company, but I imagine there is much to learn there.
Hadley Stern: Does Apple Matter?
John Battelle: Of course, in particular now with the iconic status of the iPod. And I love the Mac, it proves that you can thrive outside the lines of standardized approaches to the world.