I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be writing the first fifteen minutes of the Colbert Report or the Daily Show. It must be tough to find funny things to say about serious topics day in and out… if they were writing about our world of all things search and tech… the jokes write themselves.
Did ya hear the one about Steve Balmer calling Google a monopoly… (rim shot) no really! Not even a decade ago the evil empire based in the Redmond Death Star was best with regulators and commissions because of their heinous anti-competitive practices, which they achieved, by being the first one into the market to achieve critical mass. Now, the anti trust Gnomes of Zurich and the also-rans from the search space similarly beset our friendly Mountain View Giant. For Balmer to flat out call then a Monopoly (after calling Linux a cancer a few years back for leading the server technology OS) world is through Irony and out the other side.
A Canadian and a Fin are both in a bar on their mobile phone… one is a Blackberry the other is on a Nokia… why the long faces? Leaving aside the recent announcement that Nokia has been acquired by Microsoft, Blackberry announced a horrible set of results including nearly a billion on phones that nobody wants and plans to halve its work force. It’s worth remembering that these fallen giants used to rule the earth. Blackberry once had over half the handsets in the US and Nokia ruled Europe. What happened… the mammals ate their lunches… they didn’t evolve, and the smart phones (those silly game powered teen age toys) simply out evolved and out marketed them.
Why is having a child like the new Apple… iOS 7… I have it, it’s annoying, I already wish I didn’t have it and I can’t give it back. Bad joke… I like both my kids much more than I like iOS 7. Why Apple would come out with what feels like Android of a couple of years back is beyond me. Apple has taken a pounding ever since Jobs left (company and corporeal realm), and iPhone 5s and iOS7 were supposed to be proof that it can do more than pick over the weeds of St. Jobs.
I’m here all week… try the veal.
I took a few days off last week to celebrate yet another year getting away from me. My wife and I went to Vegas, not for the gambling but for the entertainment and food. We stayed at Caesars Palace and one evening we thought we’d try the “Gastro Pub” experience offered by none other than Brit Bad Boy, Gordon Ramsay. Truth be told, although I love to cook, I’m not a huge fan of cooking shows, and shows where Mr. Ramsay makes a buck by humiliating what are often hardworking (albeit out of their depth) restaurateurs I find less than edifying. As a fellow reasonably foul-mouthed Brit bad boy who has been known to yell on occasion, maybe I just find it too close for comfort.
In any event, I love good Pub Grub so we gave it a shot. In their defense, the beer menu was excellent and the chips (French Fries for our US cousins) were authentically soggy and British… but beyond that, the food was just horrible… by far the worst we had all week. What was especially galling was the pretense that this was in some way Great British cuisine. Let’s all agree on something… much (if not most) British food is horrible… really horrible. It’s food made by poor people from less than great ingredients, typically over cooked under spiced and dull. It may have won us the British Empire… but it would get one star on Yelp on a good day. It is possible to do British staple dishes really well, with great ingredients and proper care Bangers and Mash or Fish and Chips can be killer… that’s what’s behind the current craze of “Gastro Pubs.” Unfortunately, done poorly Brit Grub just sucks… as did the Fare at Mr. Ramsay’s Caesars Palace joint.
To start with the bread was stale. I had the fish and chips with mushy peas; my darling wife had the “mixed grill”. The fish bore absolutely no resemblance to real Fish and Chips, and the mushy peas were simply green peas which had been pulsed in a blender for a couple of seconds… not remotely authentic. The mixed grill (to phrase it how Gordon himself might) was “F*@king atrocious”. The steak was perhaps passable (though over-cooked and served cold), the weird pork belly thing was a revolting gelatinous mess, and the lame lone shrimp was either horribly spiced or perhaps spoiled. The waitperson did her best, and when I pointed out the shortcoming she apologized but made no effort to resolve.
Mr. Ramsay, if you are going to use your brand and our heritage to foist over priced high concept but poorly executed crap to an unsuspecting world, would you at least take the “British” part out of your promotion to save us the national embarrassment. There are a thousand chip shops or hole-in-the-wall cafes up and down our damp nation which wouldn’t dream of serving up the swill you deal out in Vegas. It is (by the way) entirely possible to do that kind of fare well in a Vegas context, Todd English proves that to be true every day of the week. If the menu at Caesars was ever decent, it is being betrayed by your team there… sort it out!
If this makes it to your hallowed halls, we ate on September 10th and our check number was 1884527.
Anyone who has spent any time with me will recognize that I’m really not a huge fan of other folks getting into my business. If I could vote (I can’t as with lunatics, criminals and other dangerous people US permanent legal residents don’t get the right), I might be Libertarian, or “nuts” as my lovely wife would put it. We are heavily over policed in general and in my city in particular, I’d decriminalize, tax and regulate all drugs and what you do in your bedroom is entirely up to you as long as everyone involved is over 18 and having fun.
I do have a bit of a man crush on the smartest guy in show business (Mr. Penn Jillette), and at a show of his a couple of years ago I bought an interesting souvenir. At the show they sell a credit card sized piece of metal that has the fourth amendment printed on it (Penn signed mine… sigh… dreamy). The idea is that you put it in your pocket and go through airport security… where you will be stopped and searched without probable cause or a warrant… it’s a kind of an extended ironic joke. I actually did it exactly once… and nearly missed my flight as a team of low IQ minimum wage idiots tortured me over a joke they didn’t get.
It’s doubly ironic that, in our online age, our private emails are being stopped and searched routinely every day… every one of them. If you are one of the 400+ million Gmail users, our good friends at Google are routinely stopping and searching every email you send or read for opportunities to target you with commercial messages. It’s not being done by humans, and Google argues that that makes it OK. Their robots troll through all of our private correspondence from any source, much like the NSA listens to all of our calls, and the FBI snoops on the activities of their ex-wives or girlfriends.
In the current class action suite against Google, brought on a Don Quixote hopeless basis, a bunch of fourth amendment desperados are trying to stop Google doing this. Google’s answer is that it’s essential to help them filter Spam and provide the commercial basis for the service… i.e. the ads. They aren’t the only offenders; Facebook famously extracts every last scrap of personal data and makes it target-able by advertisers with a similar justification… “we have to, to pay the bills”. We the users love free services and we don’t seem to mind that the price of freedom is eternal interference in our private information.
It’s a tricky argument, one essentially predicated on a commercial need rather than principle. Outlook doesn’t serve ads, it does filter for spam, but since it’s a paid service they don’t scan content to target ads. Is it reasonable to ask a judge to thread the needle of that difference… I have no idea, it will be interesting to find out. In an age when we have apparently quite happily surrendered our privacy rights to big government, is it a logical extension to surrender the rest to big business?
I have several secret vices; one of them is the Show Time masterpiece House of Lies. If you haven’t seen it, think Entourage meets KPMG. It’s dark, funny, clever, and uses cell phones a lot. That’s understandable as those consulting types famously live and die on their cells, but in recent episodes phone use seemed to be much more intense and I kept not recognizing the phones they were using. I’m pretty certain I remember them using Blackberries and iPhones in season one, but in season two they have been using the very good looking Windows powered the Nokia Lumina 920. It stands out, not just because the brutal product placement deal they have has had them using the phones 24×7 on any pretext… but because they are so unfamiliar, cool looking and rare. It’s a bit like catching sight of an exotic Italian sports car on the street… wait… what? was that a yellow Countach. That’s kind of been the problem with both Nokia hardware and Microsoft OS for phones… I don’t know anyone who has one, and I’ll give you dimes to donuts neither do you. The weird thing is I found myself looking at my beloved iPhone 4s and experiencing handset envy.
So the announcement today by Microsoft that it’s buying all the remaining bits of Nokia, which matter, is interesting… but is it more remarkable than then a Coked up Consultant picking up their Countach from the valet? The acquisition cements Microsoft as the solid (if distant) third place in the phone game. Google leads the OS race with Android (new version called Kitkat… long story) and lags in the handset sector. iOS has a huge installed base, let’s face it we all use Google Apps on our iPhones so that race is still too close to call. Microsoft has neither a compelling handset nor OS…’til now maybe. Nokia was going in two directions… the super cool looking Lunina (Countach edition) and a bargain basement set of models focused on emerging markets. There is a market for lower end devices for sure and word is the new iPhone will address that with a low cost version… but I want cool toys damn it! (waaah). Apple has to come out with something as cool as the Samsung Galaxy and as hot as the Lumina or it is going to take a well deserved pounding… and I have my eye on fresh meat. My Verizon contract is up on Thanksgiving… can’t wait!
It’s probably fair to say that compared with many industries, Silicone Valley in general and Search in particular just doesn’t get the kind of tabloid attention lavished on others. We don’t typically bounce with joy on Oprah’s couch or get caught in Latin America with a mistress when we are supposed to be hiking the Appalachians. All in all, we are pretty dull. However the latest machination of one of our brightest and best has garnered the kind of attention more typically reserved for Scientologists or boy bands.
I speak of course of Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google, 40 year old, 25(ish) dollar Billionaire and all round Silicone Valley Poster boy and his lovely (presumably soon to be ex wife) Anne Wojcicki; who are according to everything D entering splits ville. The Wojcickis are Silicone Valley royalty. It was in the actual garage of older sister Susan that Google was first established, and she went on to be (still) the most senior female employee at Google… running all things advertising.
Where it goes from a sad story (there are kids involved people! but apparently there was a pre-nup so this won’t shake the corporate control of Google) to soap opera is in the other cast members.
If reports are to be believed (and the Brit press is going nuts on this story… a fine example of Schadenfreude if ever I saw it) the new squeeze in Sergei’s life is a lovely 26 year old Google Glass marketing manager, Amanda Rosenberg (allegedly). At pretty much the exact same time that the lawyers hit the fan on the Brin breakup of the former boy friend of Rosenberg (also a top Android dog at Google), announced that he is leaving Google after five years to join Chinese smart phone manufacturer Xiaomi who has been lauded as the Apple of China. Xiaomi is a huge Android client so he’s staying in the family… so to speak.
In our real time media soaked world driven by the ubiquity of what used to be mostly private information, indexed and made available to all by Google, we perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised that the mighty at the mother ship themselves have fallen ironic prey to their own machine. But hey!… I wasn’t using my privacy rights anyway! When the music stops the person left holding the largest pile of Google stock is the winner.
There are some blog post items which I look at, think long about and still wonder if I should even comment on. Not because it’s not an interesting topic but because I’m simply afraid to get the story wrong. These tend to be the more arcane and legally fraught areas of search and today’s missive is on just such a topic… OK deep breath.
Way back in the mid 2000s, Google started a project to scan and make readily available some (many… most?) of the printed books currently out of copyright. They started out by taking on the obvious targets like Peter Pan or Grim Fairy Tales and have relentlessly ground on through the years ingesting more and more material, by some estimates over 20 million books and counting. Having read the small print, it appears that Google is honoring the copyright notice on books still under that protection. However, in many cases the authors (especially for books still under copyright but currently out of print) have given permission so it’s possible to print and read a huge range of books which might otherwise only be find on the shelves of libraries at your leisure. On the face of it, it’s pretty close to a victimless crime; the books involved are either public domain or are being rendered immortal with the permission of their authors.
No good deed goes unpunished and pretty much as soon as Google announced the project they were assailed by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in the form of the Authors Guild. A protracted court case ensued, it’s been dragging its lawyerly feet through multiple courts ever since. I don’t pretend to understand the complicated machinations of the case… nor do most I’m sure. The legal case is a nightmare, indeed the parties tried to settle it a while back, and the judge who wanted to settle the crucial “fair use” component of the case threw out that attempt.
The case is back in front of the judge next month and many blood shot eyes will be peering at it to see if this time it gets decided. Some of the arguments seem themselves out of fiction. One is that Google scanning and indexing of the books is essentially “transformative” in the same way that rappers sampling other music does not breech copyright. Another is the argument that because Amazon samples books as part of its marketing process, it’s OK for Google to do the same… no I didn’t get that one either. Greater minds than ours will no doubt be brought to bear. Who knows, maybe a really useful way to extend and spread many kinds knowledge will be kept for us all… or maybe it will go the way of most other libraries nowadays… and become shuttered and empty.
The revelation that Google continues to be the top search engine is up there with the Pope being catholic or the toiletry habits of bears. Yes of course, Google is king with a little over two thirds of explicit search going to Google sites… mostly Google.com. What’s more interesting, perhaps, is that the race for second is getting less frantic. There was a time when Yahoo really seemed to care about search… sadly those days seem to be behind us. In a weird statistical fluke Yahoo passed Google in sheer page views last month, but before anyone pops too many corks over at Yahoo bear in mind that news or email page views are worth a tiny fraction compared to search page views… so, simply having more of them really doesn’t get you that much… Google’s revenue outstrip Yahoo’s by a factor of ten.
According to the latest Comscore data, Yahoo maintained its modest 11% market share as Microsoft (Bing) picked up a point. It is a little sad that Yahoo no longer seems to care as much, and doesn’t even include search as a strategic target. Bing is at least pretending to care and doesn’t seem satisfied with a touch under 18% market shares. The “also ran” category in search continues to be a race to oblivion between AOL and ASK, both of whom slipped a little in July. If I’m honest, I don’t honestly remember the last time I knowingly used either product other than to check that they are still alive and kicking. Weirdly, search is so valuable that even having one whole percent (like AOL) is still worth a ton of money, so hanging for grim death to an apparently meaningless market share is still worth doing. Meantime, the Google parade continues as they maintain a firm market lead with no meaningful competition in site… as always, it’s good to be Google.
Unlike most red blooded males in this fair country, the start of the football season does nothing for my blood pressure or happiness quotient. I will admit that when I lived in New England a few years back, and when the Patriots were pretty much unstoppable, I did join the party… but it was much more for the chips and dip than the sport. However, in a year or so I may be forced to pay a tiny amount more attention than usual to football. If you are a hard core NFL fan you may well have bought the DirectTV package in good part to gain access to the NFL Sunday Ticket package. That deal expires at the end of the 2014 season so it’s understandably already in-play and one of the earlier suitors is none other than our good friends at Google.
It’s an interesting idea, and one that may have legs. Google has been scratching (mostly with moderate/no success) at TVs for many years. They purchased YouTube back in 2006, and have built it into the second largest search engine, they have also built the monetization pace, especially in recent years. Other forays into more traditional TV have been markedly less successful with the debacle of Google TV in 2011 being the crowning ‘achievement’. Since then we have seen a plethora of TV devices from Apple TV to RoKu or Boxy boxes which have gained traction in good part because they give easy access to huge amounts of high quality lower priced streamed content. The recent over night success of Google’s Chrome Cast, which sold out in one day may have Google looking at this space more carefully.
The Chrome Cast widget is the size of a USB thumb drive and plugs right into the HDMI socket of your TV. The price point of $35 seems to have cleared the ‘low enough not to be an issue’ hurdle nicely. It plays the content Apps like Netflix and Hulu+ in HD beautifully, so adding an NFL Google App which only runs on the Chromecast widget might be an effective way to drive both Chrome Cast sales and the presence of a Google content App to act as a De-facto Google TV station. With the right Apps, you can live without live TV and you really don’t need a cable TV bill.
If you look at the recent media landscape, you see media giants burdened with traditional production and distribution costs, advertising commitments, and increasingly fractured audiences (TV and radio alike) competing with non traditional upstart content delivery platforms like AppleTV and Chromecast which can deliver HDTV over broadband distributing high quality low cost content to both wide spread and highly targeted audiences. Much of the best TV programming is coming from high cable number independents like AMC, even as the PodCast is pulverizing the smoking remains of ‘terrestrial’ radio. There are a lot of viewers out there who would never fully cut the cable TV cord because there are a few things which they really want to see which are exclusive to cable. If Google could secure an NFL deal, maybe that’s another well deserved nail in the coffin which contains the bloated remains of traditional media.
Some time in the early 2000′s… probably 2001, back when I used to work for one of the emerging search engines, I was drafted to give a presentation to the American Library Association… or perhaps it was the Association of American Librarians… I don’t recall exactly which. I do recall the meeting happened in New York City at some place lined with marble and was eerily quiet. It felt appropriate that such an august grouping should meet in such a tranquil venue. In any event, I had been asked along as a representative of one of these upstart search engines. Although the meeting was cordial, I received something of a drubbing at the hands of those very nice people. I have no idea what I presented, but I’m sure it included diagrams featuring cloud shaped objects representing the Internet and vague explanations of how we managed to index and search as many as a billion internet pages in split seconds. As I type that brings back happy memories of the race to create the first billion page index… I think we got there first, but Google passed us shortly after and they are still going at roughly 50Bn and counting.
The consensus opinion back then was that these upstarts wouldn’t catch on and would never replace the expert guidance and knowledge base of the traditional librarian. A decade or so later, that doesn’t sound like such a safe bet. I was reminded of that far off time by a couple of recent developments. The first is worthy and I have to imagine a crushingly dull report on articles about search engines and the impact of search written by librarians over the past decade or so. From the summary I zipped through, it sounds like they managed to cram in most of the stages of grieving into roughly the first five years of the last decade. The started with Denial, which was pretty much when I met them and worked their way through. Anger (how dare they…don’t they realize we have qualifications in this field?) to Bargaining (If we let them do the pop culture stuff we will focus on the hard intellectual areas)… through Depression (How long ’till I can retire?) to Acceptance (OK it’s here, how can we help people become better searchers).
The other development which I thought nicely underscored these changes is the recent introduction into the main search results by Google of content from scholar.google.com. This is a specialized index of content which has been around for a while. In general, it appears to be well researched longer articles which are heavily cited by other sources. Not every search will trigger this kind of result. For example, a search for Amanda Bynes generates typical news and gossip results focusing on the unfortunate antics of this young lady. However a search for Alcohol Induced Psychosis yields a group of scientific and medical articles from the Scholar index above the other results. Back in the good old days (by which I mean the early 2000′s), the level of depth and quality of research would typically only be found at an academic library under the steely gaze of your friendly local neighborhood librarian… now, it’s there for free any time day or night on Google… but do you feel smarter?
Permit me if you will, to divert from my usual inane ramblings about all things search to comment on today’s startling announcement. Jeff Bezos the brilliant founder of Amazon has just bought the mighty Washington Post for $250MM of his own money. Back before I went dot com in 1999, I did a decade working very closely with major newspapers all over the world. As I recall, The Post was never a client of ours so I never got to spend quality time there, but the NY Times, Boston Globe, Star Tribune (the list goes on and on) were and I spent many happy years working with the amazing people which pull off the daily miracle; which is the News Paper business. I decided to get out, not because I didn’t have a great job or didn’t enjoy it, but despite the booming ad revenues and circulation it seemed to me that the writing was on the wall… and it didn’t look great. So I quit my nice job and joined a Internet Search Engine start up… the rest is history. Throughout my time in search I have kept several friends in the news business, and if you cut me I still bleed ink… but man, it is tough to see how the mighty are fallen. To fully understand the level of apocalypse this industry has experienced, you need look no further than this striking… indeed terrifying graphic which shows news paper revenues adjusted for inflation.
This decline is even clearer when you take into account the relatively modest $250MM paid by Bezos for one of the nations great publishing institutions. Back in 1933 when the current owners purchased the title out of bankruptcy they paid $825,000. If that value had kept up with inflation it would have cost Bezos nearly $15BN big ones. That he only paid 6% of the inflation adjusted price gives you some idea of the straits the industry is now in. I’ve admired Mr. Bezos for many years. He’s clearly a genius and I love, his products. Anyone that can take on our space and conquer it as he has, has to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s a visionary who thinks big, indeed he’s working on his own space program complete with a Texas based launch facility and mission control.
Forbes says he’s worth over $25Bn, so for him to put down what amounts to 1% of his net worth on the project, is similar to a regular Joe buying an ATV. We have a grand old tradition in the US of rich and powerful men owning huge chunks of media, at least in part as a political mouth piece. Murdoch has been the poster child for this on the right, but News Corp owns much more than just the print titles, so it going to be tougher for Bezos to make an empire out of The Post print titles alone. If I had to rank the challenge of getting a man into orbit or making the grand old institution of The Post successful again, or getting a man into low earth orbit, I’d be hard pushed to pick the easier option… but he certainly deserves credit for taking the project on.