I have just returned from the BIA Kelsey conference in San Fransisco. I won’t waste your time with the details, but it was interesting to watch the smoking remains of the Yellow Book industry meet to stare at the entrails and try to guess the next disaster which will befall them.
While I was there I had a couple of moments which I thought nicely illustrated how things have changed. San Fransisco (as you no doubt know) is at the beating heart of all that we know of as new media and beyond. Indeed attend a tech conference there and you could be forgiven for believing that the rest of the world, let alone America, doesn’t actually exist.
In any event, if you had any doubt of the impact social media has had on our world (admittedly from a SF perspective) then look no further.
Example 1 Starbucks
I ordered my usual Starbucks coffee and croissant from the store opposite my hotel. When I got to the cashier she smiled sweetly and told me that their cash registers were off line… so breakfast was on them. They didn’t shut the store, demand cash only or ask people to leave, they just gave breakfast away. All they asked was that we maybe tell or friend or mention it on Facebook.
Example 2 Fang Chinese Restaurant
San Fran was packed, so getting into any decent Chinese place near the hotel was tougher than you might expect. I managed to get a spot for 3 at Fang, which was a block or two from my hotel. We arrived a little early and watched as about two dozen people who arrived after us (in many cases without reservations) were seated while we waited quietly starving. I’m guessing that the front desk was told to fill seats, and 3 people can’t fit into a four seat table so we were waiting for the one 3 person table to clear. In any event, front desk wasn’t interested in seating us any time soon. Thirty minutes in I took out my phone and started to compose a one star review on Yelp. At that point the manager passed by and saw me on my phone. She asked what I was doing on yelp and I told her. She then literally whisked us off to a table (which seated 5) and showered us with complimentary appetizers… all of which was in the (successful) attempt of heading off a one star review.
It’s interesting to note that in two service related situations, a national chain and a single location restaurant, the folks in charge had internalized at a pretty profound level that social engagement and reputation management have to be absolutely front and center… almost at any cost. It may be a very San Fran phenomena right now… but I have to believe it’s a trend with a future.
It’s fun watching the right people having fun… nothing else explains the allure of the Kennedys, Donald Trump, and the real Housewives. In the tech world we get to enjoy the playful antics of Google. This week we saw the launch of a new virtual Middle Earth on Google Maps, a Dr. Who Themed Google Doodle, plans for Google Glass at prescription strength, and some whacky winter oriented nonsense called Winter Wonder Lab. Ultimately all the wealth, power and fun tracks back to one thing… knowledge. Google has become the way we navigate the Internet… which is great if you live in a country like the US. In places like China, where the Government attempts to stop folk from finding out things they’d rather you not know about, things are different. Although you can still get to Google, there are many sites that you can’t get to via Google since they are blocked by the Evil Lords of China and their Political Nazgul.
The sad and somewhat Ironic fact is that for much less than the effort and cost Google employed on their adorable virtual Middle Earth (in commercial cooperation with the latest Hobbit movie of course), Google could set the information-oppressed people of China (and other evil empires) free. The task is laughably simple, all Google would need do is make Google china (like Google US) encrypted by switching to https rather than http. That would make the task of blocking encrypted results essentially impossible. It wouldn’t stop the Chinese from blocking sites, but since Google knows which sites are blocked, and any cached version of the site stored elsewhere, all they would need to do is redirect a visitor to the cached unblocked version via their results set.
Were Google to actually take on the dark lords like this, it would no doubt casue a furroro in many places. There would be protests and counter measures. However trying to oppose the growth of the Internet, and Google, is pointless. They are just too huge to fight. What’s the worse could happen… Google would be seen as a crusader for freedom (nice change)? After a few news cycles, the new norm would be established and there would be several more cracks in mount doom.
Back in the day.. .by which I mean about a decade ago (when I used to work a tone of the big search engines), we were approached by a Middle Eastern Country to come up with a web search engine which could be controlled so that content from specific sites on the web could be excluded and specific queries and queries about specific topics would return no results.
At the time, the consensus from our engineering team was that it was mostly pretty doable. The problem we had was that the customer wanted very strong guarantees that we’d stop everything, and back then we couldn’t guarantee that we would never show content on specific topics if that content was found indirectly. It had a pretty high “ick” factor too, so we passed on the opportunity.
It was thus with a feeling of being somewhat underwhelmed by recent announcements from Google and Bing that they would be implementing filters for the 13,000 plus queries which have been shown to link back to child pornography or pedophilia related sites. The announcement has been greeted with limited ballyhoo… but positive ballyhoo nonetheless. The fact really not commented on is that this is something they have had the engineering ability to do for at-least the last decade. No doubt the efficiency of the process has improved over the years, but there was absolutely nothing stopping them doing something very similar a long time ago.
In fairness, both Google and Bing have been responsive in taking down offending content when that content is reported to them… but it’s always been a proactive response. The root of this reticence (as is most things bad) is legal. The Digital Millennium Copyright act (amongst many other things) gave the search engines ‘safe harbor’ against being accused of copyright infringement for indexing content published on the web. A corollary to this argument was that Search Engines would loose this safe harbor if they could be accused of manually “editing” the index. The end result was that search engines (like my old one) steadfastly resisted doing anything other than make algorithmic changes which impact the entire index or only removed URLs when instructed to by a Judge. This thinking has ruled the world of web search ever since.
The recent furor around the issue of kiddie porn and search has been led by the Brits and is gaining traction over here. The changes just announced will likely calm that excitement at a cosmetic level, a couple of news cycles later it will be long forgotten… sadly, the problem won’t be. The folks into this toxic garbage don’t rely on search engines, rather pics are traded like baseball card between like minded “enthusiasts.” These changes might slow down the curious or beginners, but it won’t stop the hardcore… it’s too little and too late.
It’s unlikely that this story will survive more than one news cycle… indeed as we deal with the Philippines Disaster and the latest gun rampage this story may never cross your desk. So it’s with a glad heart that I can declare a win for the good guys today… and weirdly today the good guys are Google.
What feels like a million years ago, but was is in fact only about 8 years; the publishers and Authors associations/guilds (whatever) sued Google over copyright infringement for Google Books. Ironically, the intervening years have established scanned books and all they represent in terms of keeping all our of print books available to more than a few researchers as invaluable to the whole world. Even though the parties to the case reached multiple settlements, the judge insisted that the case go forward and today Judge Chin ruled that the project both respected copyright holders rights and served an enormous public benefit. Finally, a judicial ruling that makes perfect sense.
I won’t bore you with minutiae of the argument, no doubt the losers in this quixotic case will appeal and waste more of their members money flogging a horse, which died about 5 years ago. Meanwhile Google will continue to scan and in many ways rescue books that are out of print, out of copyright, or just plain languishing in the stacks of libraries all over the world. As we move inexorably from a dead tree digital world digitizing the massive corpus of the world’s writing and mobilizing them for humanity to experience is an expensive and reasonably thankless task. If Google weren’t doing this essentially for free, we’d likely have to wait for some governmental body to do that for us… and we know how well that stuff works out. So score one for humanity, and let’s give Google credit where it’s due… this one time.
As an avid Google watcher, I find myself wondering “what’s next” on a pretty regular basis. Driving to Vegas recently, I passed the surreal power plant out in the desert, which focuses the desert heat from thousands of mirrors on to the power housing that drives steam turbines. Someone got ticketed recently for driving whilst impaired… in as much as they were wearing Google Glass, and apparently in our crazy over-regulated world that’s an impairment. A few weeks back Google filed a patent for an approach which allowed someone wearing Google Glass to indicate to “like” something by making the two hands make a heart symbol over the object as seen by Glass. Last week Google filed a patent for what is essentially an electronic (removable) tattoo that would allow users to control their devices by speaking to them. It could also double as a handy dandy lie detector. Clearly Google has plans to allow us to interact at deeper and deeper levels with the Google technology that surrounds us.
If you add in their efforts towards driverless cars, massive and self-sufficient data centers, genome driven disease detection (23 and me), World Wide WiFi and plans to end death, you could be forgiven that they are single-handedly trying to make the life’s work of Isac Asimov become reality in our generation.
If you are a keen Sci-Fi follower you may have come across the debate around advanced civilization and virtual reality. The theory goes that as we explore the universe we find the remains of civilizations but never the actual civilization. It seems worlds get to a level a little more advanced than we are… then vanish. The answer lies in death. The theory goes that as soon as a civilization gets advanced enough, it can store the consciousness in a machine the inhabitants essentially depart this boring old world for a much more entertaining and immortal virtual world stored on massive data centers buried deep beneath the surface.
I have to admit I have a sneaking suspicion for the amazing (but much less glamorous) work that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has been doing to eliminate some of the world’s nastiest diseases… as opposed to the cool “Wham Bam Science Man!” innovations much beloved by Google. However, it is fascinating to see what was pure science fiction becoming reality in real time… one crazy Google idea after another.
When I was a little kid, we used to play a game where everyone except one person would line up on one side of the room with the one person facing away covering their eyes on the other side ‘guarding’ the wall. At any point, the person on guard can spin round and uncover their eyes. The goal was to get from one side of the room to the other without the person on guard catching you moving. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of that game… I thought it might be Freeze Tag, but apparently not. In any event, it feels a lot like we are playing that right now with our privacy rights and the online giants.
In this modern online case, it’s the search engines and social media giants which are sneaking up on us trying to get to the other side without getting caught moving our rights. They make progress by tinkering with the long verbose terms of service and user privacy agreements (which none of us ever read). Typically, when one of these changes is affected (like the recent ones to Google+ ) they are couched in ways that are so vague and sweeping that it leaves privacy activists and the FCC reaching for their guns while the rest of us just scratch our heads and get on with life.
I’m a huge user and fan of Google, but this stuff drives me crazy. I actually did read the recent changes to the rules and I’m still in the dark. Here are a few examples: I went to see the brilliant and breathtaking movie Gravity last night. Does me posting about it on this blog whilst I’m logged into several Google platforms count? Can I expect to see “Brilliant and Breathtaking says ThinkJudd” on a billboard some place? Probably not. However if I went to Google Play and commented on the movie or shared this blog through Google+ (as I will), then it looks like it’s fair game. If I emailed my kids about the movie through Gmail, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t expect to see those remarks recirculate on Google. I don’t actually mind that much either way about things I post in what are clearly public forums… what bothers me is that it’s not clear what Google intends by the changes.
What will happen (as happens every time) is there will be a few days of excitement and complaints, a few stories in the media about big brother then the news cycle turns and we go on with the new norm firmly in place… until the next time. We are clearly moving to a new norm where we have collectively agreed to trade much of our privacy rights for convenience and cool toys… tag you’re it.
Image via http://art.raphaellowe.com
I like Yahoo… always have, and it’s tough to see their fortunes continue to flag. Their recent Q4 projections underwhelmed the Street, they projected a tad over 1 billion, sadly the analysts were looking for something closer to 1.25. The brightest spot on their cloudy horizon isn’t even in the US… it’s the Amazon of China Alibaba of which they own 24 percent. If the Alibaba IPO goes as well as anticipated, it will bolster Yahoo’s numbers nicely. Apart from that, Yahoo continues to languish… snapping up cute baubles at what appears to be almost any price without those acquisitions materially moving the numbers.
They have done relatively well this year pulling off a close to 70% rise in value, but their core problem remains that the big search money goes to Google and Facebook is killing it with display and social. Google has made a good run at forcing people to use Google+ with sheer brute force, dragging their integrated social play into relevance, despite the wishes of it’s audience who really didn’t want it.
Sadly, Yahoo missed the social boat… and the twitter boat, the RTB display, and even the search boat. In fact, they have missed a flotilla of opportunities in recent years. For the biggest thing in the Yahoo story to be their ownership of a Chinese eCom giant is frankly a bit sad. Despite all these clouds on their horizon, they remain the largest single inline property with a strong brand and some very strong properties. Yahoo clearly sees all things mobile as a possible route to salvation, as users migrate to mobile engagement at a more rapid rate that anyone predicted. If Yahoo can become the key providers for digital content across their own apps and mobile properties, then that may be a strategy with legs… we will see.
It’s been a while coming, but today Google announced the change in their ad and privacy policies. There’s a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo, but the short read is if you endorse, score, or +1 anything on a Google platform like Google Play or Search, then Google may include your smiling face and comments to any of your friends or colleagues in your Google+ circles. The example they give is if you gave an album 4 stars and a rave review on Google Play, the next time one of your friends or family are searching for the same music, restaurant, or Asian Massage parlor… you may well pop up in the result/review.
If you buy that, we are essentially moving to a privacy free world where anything and everything you do online is fair game. This move makes perfect sense. From a commercial point of view, I can see that the endorsement by one of your friends is likely to catch the eye and may well make that searcher more likely to make that selection. If you see the world as descending into an over connected nightmare, where we are all essentially shouting to each other in a fishbowl owned and operated by Google and Facebook, this will likely build your paranoia.
If reinforcement were needed, this week Facebook announced new advertising tools that will allow advertisers to better target ads based on shared interests. The twist here is that they invite the advertiser to state what the goal of the campaign is and, based on Facebook’s extensive knowledge of the behavior of their users, they will put the campaign together for you. In part, I suspect this is a testament to how hard Facebook advertising is to figure out given the limited experience most marketeers have with social media. They are essentially saying “don’t worry your pretty little head… we will do it for you”.
So now we have Google roping us into endorsing products and services on the behalf of those advertisers, and Facebook cutting out the middleman and taking advertisers straight to their targets. Oh… and Twitter is worth a billion dollars… or something.
As I have mentioned several times before, I’m not a huge fan of social media. I realize it’s a generational thing and I’m probably not in the core demographic. I have a Facebook page, which I think I’ve posted on maybe a dozen times, but I do use LinkedIn. As a hang out place for people with a business interest it works pretty well. I have a lot of contacts (something over a thousand I believe), and I probably know about half of them. If you aren’t already a big LinkedIn user, you may be not be familiar with the LinkedIn way, but it’s pretty easy to find folks online and invite them to contact you. The bar is low… you really don’t have to know (or even have met) them to reach out. That generates a lot of contact spam where folks who don’t know you invite you to connect… and as an easy going kinda guy I usually accept.
A while back LinkedIn added an endorsement feature where you can endorse one of your contacts for a skill or expertise. I’m not entirely sure how LinkedIn figures out your interests and capabilities, but when you log onto the platform it asks you what one of your contacts knows about something LinkedIn thinks they may know about. It’s easy to do and generates engagement. LinkedIn is constantly letting you know who endorsed you for which skill… fair enough. What’s weird is that this provides the contact spammers with a neat new tool. They can endorse people they don’t know and have never met for skills or experiences that they may not actually have. For example, the other day I was endorsed for ‘email marketing skills’ by a person I have never had any contact with. I know a fair amount about a range of marketing and online activities… but what I know about email marketing you could fit in the subject line… of an email.
After the endorsement, in many cases, comes the follow-up email claiming credit for the endorsement looking for a meeting or call about something.
In the big picture, none of this amounts to a hill of beans… I really should stop complaining about things which don’t matter… but suddenly acquiring credit from complete strangers about skills or expertise you neither have nor have profess to have is a weird first world problem.
Google turned 15 a week or so back and got the usual breakfast TV chatter to accompany a beloved family member hitting mid teens. I wonder if search engines should measure their age like dogs… making Google 150 or so. They have certainly done an amazing job of hanging in there. A long time ago I was actually selling against them (back when you could sell search as a service to websites). Google ended that market when they set the price to “free” and started paying sites for their traffic… the rest is history. They have been aided by some monumental mistakes by their largest competitors, and having attained an effective monopoly, they have done an amazing job of using it against their competitors whilst escaping the consequences of monopolistic behavior. Even the Google haters in the EU look like they are going to settle with Big G rather than clamp them in Irons or keel haul them.
I saw a news story today about the “richest dumb guy on earth”, Mark Cuban, and his Quixotic defense against the SEC accusations of insider trading. At issue is a stock sale of Mamma search shares. Mamma is still there (Lord knows how), and there has been a more or less constant drumbeat of Google wanna-bees who have sprouted (often to acclaim) and gone the way of all flesh. The latest “rival” is Blippex out of Germany. That’s not a skin ointment, rather it’s a new search engine. They use a time on site metric to gauge quality (rather than links), and boast a whole 2 million index pages… a few tens of billions behind Google. That’s part of the problem… once you have achieved critical mass, and market dominance, you can afford the crazy tech and money it takes to index the largest thing mankind has ever made. Competing with that is like shouting at thunder.
Something we have definitely seen change and evolve over time is the “evil” factor. Back in the day when search was a whored-out mess of blue links and banner ads, Google adopted “don’t be evil” as their unofficial corporate slogan. Nowadays, not so much. If you take a look at their actions from their brilliant tax planning (which allowed them to pay a whole 1% of taxes on profits in the UK recently), through to pretty consistent problems with the care and keeping of personal data, it’s possible to find evil of some kind in almost every area… if you care to. That’s part of the Google enigma. They can be seen as geniuses, or evil geniuses for the same behavior. If you fundamentally don’t trust big data, they are the Anti-Christ… if you just want the convenience and low cost of all the cool tools they have brought to the party, you probably don’t care.
Either way they are perhaps the greatest success story of the Internet age, and albeit a little late, I’m happy to add my congratulations… Cheers!