The Velvet Rope Problem

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For an incredibly rich and powerful company Google has a tin ear when it comes to the common touch. At the core of the problem is an apparent company wide belief that they are smarter than the rest of us and the rules don’t apply to them. The irony is that the billions of dollars of revenue they generate each year comes from regular people searching for stuff online. In comparison Apple does a much better job of fitting in with the common man. The iPhone and iPad are probably amongst the best designed and engineered things most of us possess. In comparison Google Glass and driverless cars are securely focused on the super rich tech insiders. One of their more public elitist debacles is now headed into the sunset. The Google barges were mysterious contraptions moored in San Fran and Portland harbors. Although their true function was never fully revealed, the consensus was that these were planned to be retail/display centers where the brightest and best could meet behind closed doors to become privy to and perhaps buy the latest and greatest from the Google stable. These barges have now been sold and are headed off to the breakers yard…or whatever else the new owners have in mind for them. Not only was this a very public attempt to end run retail zoning laws it was also a clear example of their “this is not for you” mentality.  In comparison Apple builds huge beautifully designed retail outlets in most larger cities without velvet ropes to keep regular folks at bay.

Google is terrific at spotting a trend then jumping on it to use their wealth and power to make it both accessible and affordable to everyone.  That’s probably a bit unsatisfactory for the Googlers who think the cools stuff should be kept for “people like them” but it’s where the smart money is. The democratization of technology has been a major driving force for the last couple of decades. As a rule of thumb, if a development’s users can be numbered in the hundreds and can only be found in the greater San Francisco Bay area it’s not going to drive revenue at scale.

The Google Genome Project

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Google has a black ops group which spends large chunks of speculative Google cash on ‘moonshot’ projects like self driving cars and dark fiber. Most of these don’t have immediate financial upside but neither did the original moonshot and we are still enjoying the benefits from that adventure. the latest project to come out to that group is one I can totally get behind.  Ten years ago sequencing the Human Genome cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Nowadays you can get your broad genome markers worked up for $70 or the whole thing sequenced for about $1,000. This has led to a proliferation of DNA data for hundreds of thousands disease conditions.  We know which mutations are closely linked to various diseases, we also have a pretty good handle on mutations which are implicated. Google has already partnered with Autism Speaks to help them digest the massive DNA data understanding that syndrome generates, now they are contributing in a different way.

Part of the problem of understanding the genetic causes of disease is that the majority of the data we have amassed so far has been from sick or very sick people. Even in cases where a very precise mutation is linked to a disease there may be other more subtle things going on.  These things can be harder to spot when a person’s genome is already seriously impacted by disease. To help make comparisons easier and more accurate Google is setting out to come up with the base line DNA of a “healthy” human. That should help people studying disease more easily find other potential markers or contributing factors for their target condition.  Initially Google will use the entire genomes of 175 apparently healthy guinea pigs.  The data will be anonymous and they wont be taking samples from anyone they employ.  Provided that the data is truly anonymous this shouldn’t generate any meaningful health concerns.  Over time I’d expect them the use a larger and larger healthy normal dataset but this sounds like a good start. It’s good to see Google using their massive wealth and data processing powers for good in this case.

Oh Those Spaniards

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I have mentioned many times that Google is seen as public enemy #1 in many parts of the EU.  It personifies American avarice and digital monopoly.  Various EU courts have gone after it and occasionally they win…witness the recent goofy “right to be forgotten” hoopla. If there is any industry which has suffered at the hands of the digital revolution it’s the newspapers. They have fallen from mighty powerhouses of influence and money to business scratching out a living on the margins of the new digital world.  Understandably they hate Google News more than almost anyone. From their point of view Google takes the content they wrote and deserves it up on a site which they don’t get paid for. Of course as soon as a Google news reader wants to read more than just the snippet published on Google they have to click through and that drives a ton of readers (and thus revenue) to the news site.  A few years back the German government pass laws which essentially required that Google pay news publishers if they link to their content. Google responded by requiring that publishers agree not to pay for being linked to…if they didn’t agree they were out the index. Not surprisingly most signed.

The Spanish government has now passed similar legislation which taxes Google for linking to news sites. The wrinkle here is that they are trying to impose an “inalienable right” clause which they hope will prevent Google from solving this in Spain the way they solved it in Germany. On the face of it this is all very silly.  The newspapers in question can stop Google from indexing them whenever they want by simply deploying a “robots noindex flag” on their sites…and they can lose the traffic which comes their way from Google by doing that.

If the Spanish try to make the weird “inalienable right” clause to trump the German solution (please don’t ask for an explanation of how that works I haven’t got one yet”) then Google could simply dump the Spanish news index entirely….then everyone loses.

This feels a lot like tilting at windmills on the part of the Spanish media dinosaurs who just don’t like the way the digital world turned out. Sadly that ship has sailed…Google does not and will not pay to index your content Señor Publisher, you may hate it and feel it unfair, but that’s the reality and in your heart of hearts you know that you need Google more than Google needs you.

Changing the Way We Sleep

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Sleep is pretty important to most of us, and getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult for some. There are a slew of sleep-aids out there, but a recently successful Kickstarter campaign ($100,000 goal, so far over $300,000 has been raised) has pushed a company named “Hello” to create the module called Sense.

The Sense Sleep Tracker system consists of three parts; the sense module, the sense pill, and the app. The Sense module looks like a trendy rubber band ball, but it monitors things while you snooze along with the sleep pill. It’s a pill by name only, as it clips onto your pillow and tracks how much you toss and turn with a 6-axis accelerometer and gyroscope

What makes Sense interesting, though, is what else it takes into account. By tracking noise, light, temperature, humidity, and even air condition, it figures out a “Sleep Score” based on the potential for rest and how much you actually managed to get. Events such as car alarms sounding outside, or dogs barking are figured into the calculation as well.

The Sense module can record any rumblings it hears, but will also keep an eye on light levels, temperature and other disturbances near the bedside. Just want to relax? That funky module can put out white noise or other soothing sounds to put you to sleep and then wake you up at the perfect time with its Smart Alarm, which wakes you when you are out of your deepest sleep cycle.

The first units are scheduled to roll out in November.

The Information Polluter?

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This is a new one….for as long as I have been watching search this one is news to me. You may recall that Google has fallen afoul of the EU regulators who have declared that people have  right to be forgotten and can request that Google remove content which is harmful under certain rather vague circumstances. It has subsequently been deluged with requests which vary from paedophiles attempting to cover their tracks to people seeking to protect victims of abuse from being identified. This was always going to be a tricky messy problem and it’s already getting worse. Google never agreed to do more than remove the content from the local domain of the complained if that domain is in the EU.  That means that anyone can check on Google.com and still find the content. Indeed Google flags that they have removed something which is more likely to draw attention to the problem content.  In addition sites have popped up which flag content which has been removed and notify news organizations to that effect. All this means that you are just as likely to find renewed notoriety than the obscurity desired.

The EU is already unhappy with the situation and has called Google, Bing and Yahoo in for a good spanking. It’s hard to imagine that they will readily agree to the EU essentially censoring indices which Google/Bing would claim they have no sovereignty over.  The new angle the EU legislators are taking is that by leaving the information in other places to found the search engines are guilty of “data pollution”. Leaving aside the weirdly Kafkaesque concept of information pollution its’ an interesting take. If a US oil giant pollutes an EU coastline they fall under the sovereignty of the country involved and can be fined/regulated accordingly.  Why is information different…if it’s harmful…it’s harmful…clean it up world wide.  As I said this feels like an entirely novel approach and I have no idea if it will have legs enough to impact the situation…but it will be fascinating to watch.

Something Finally Sticks to Google

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For several years the enormous political lobbying power wielded by Google has meant that it has been pretty much impervious from any legal assault in the US. Add to that the intense fear which all California lawmakers have about offending or scaring off the Silicon Valley Golden Goose.  Even in cases where they exploit their clear monopoly the Google ship of state has sailed on regardless. So it was with some surprise that I read about the decision they lost this week. The case is incredibly inside baseball. Back in 2012 in an attempt to catch up to the cavalier but very successful approach towards end user data used by Facebook, Google consolidated their various end user terms and conditions. In so doing the complainers allege that end user data was compromised leaving users open to identity theft or harassment. Was there any actual harm…I doubt it…but that never stopped anyone exploiting our legal system.  The judge did kick out a bunch of smaller sillier provisions but the central complaint stands and Google will have to answer it in court.

On a cursory examination of the facts it certainly looks like Google fumbled the ball by making the changes without asking for opt in permission from their users. At the very least they should have told us clearly…but who reads the small print nowadays…lord knows what I’ve agreed to over the years .  For all I know Apple my have rights to my first born by now. So now the case grinds forwards. Will it eventually fall apart because the harm involved was so small and so hard to prove that another judge will eventually put it out of its misery?  Perhaps…but I really wasn’t using my end user privacy anyway.

The Mobile Dilema

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I’ve been traveling much of this week and I have barely powered up my laptop all week. It’s likely that you (like most of us) are increasingly experiencing most things online on your mobile devices rather than the desktop.  That’s great for you and me…but not so great for Google. Google just released it’s Q2 results and they were pretty darn good…revenue up but also significant increases in spend, many in areas unlikely to yield revenue for a while. While the suits in Mountain View are investing in “moonshot” projects like wearable tech and self driving cars the part of the business where the bacon gets made is under pressure. The long and short of it is that the advertisers have not followed the users in any where near enough numbers to keep the average value per click sold from declining…again…a decline which has dogged Google for the past few years.

Mobile devices don’t have as much real estate, are harder to track and the advertising folk involved are still more conservative than the users. So although Google’s revenue has continued to grow investors are looking at a strategy of moonshot projects in the context of challenging key metrics in the core business with less than enthusiasm. In the same week that Google announced its numbers it also announced the departure of the guy officially running their ad business.   Nikesh Arora departed to SoftBank. It was interesting to see him address this very issue of click decline a few months back. He commented then that he sees local advertisers as the silver bullet solution to this problem. We have certainly seen the impact of increased interest in online advertising by local businesses result in significant click inflation. The problem Google has is a relatively small  number of local businesses currently spending like drunken sailors on clicks they don’t necessarily feel the benefit from isn’t a long term solution. Local businesses don’t have the marketing fire power enjoyed by agencies and large companies….they want leads not clicks. That’s exactly where we come in, we turn those clicks into the leads they need. There is a cultural ravine called “local” which Google will have to cross or fill in to turn the tide on click price decline. Interesting times indeed.

Google Search Giving Us a Heads-Up

 

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As you probably know, Adobe Flash is not supported by iOS or Android 4.1 and higher. If you bring up one of those sites on your mobile phone, you will see a page with blank spaces and miss out of some of the main content that you were intended to see.  Google is developing their search interface to do away with these “common annoyances” for web browsers. They will now give you a warning in their search results before you waste your time (and data) with an Adobe Flash based website, rather than the HTML5 that is universally supported by everybody.

By using these tools, Google believes you can build a “responsive web design” and search-friendly sites.  And, of course, Google wants you to make sure that you do not block any ‘crawling of any Googlebot,’ as those files help Google with their algorithms and their sales of information.

The reason these mobile web searches are of such a concern is that many people believe, that mobile searches could actually surpass desktop queries this year.  There are about 2 billion PCs in the world and more than 5 billion mobile devices, so it is inevitable that mobile searching will eventually surpass the desktop as the main choice to search the web. Think of the importance this way; when you need a question answered immediately, what type of platform would you use? Most people would answer that with a mobile phone, or something other than a laptop or desktop computer.

Right now in the U.S. desktop inquiries far surpass mobile, however, in many developing countries, mobile has already surpassed the desktop.  While Google is not trying to oppose either search method, they want BOTH types of searches to benefit the user experience…and of course, their method of grabbing data to sell. That is after all, their main business.

The other side of the coin is that Google is trying to change their aesthetic look – there has been a big push, especially seen at Google I/O last month, to make its design a universal and unified look across all platforms.

Google claims they are not eliminating the non-flash websites from its search results, just giving us advanced knowledge about the site’s compatibility with your device. If that is guiding you away from those sites, then it can be corrected by changing the website design over to the more up-to-date HTML5 content.

Is There a Future in Cloud Computing?

 

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Over the last year, the concept of cloud computing has continued to build momentum, as it has rapidly moved into the mainstream.  In fact it is now fair to say that cloud as a distinct topic has started to fade into the background; organizations are now simply leveraging all kinds of cloud services as a necessary component of their digital strategies.

This increase in cloud usage means that the boundaries of the enterprise are starting to blur, in particular enterprise IT is no longer defined by ownership or the location of the technology but rather by the value it can bring. But what does this mean for the future of cloud? What will continue to drive this change?

Companies can now create reliable and scalable systems in a matter of days or weeks rather than months or years, using cloud platforms to create components that instantly have global scale and reach.  The speed of application development in the cloud – as a result of both higher productivity and the ability to build on the work of others through integration – is therefore a key trend and a real game changer in terms of both the value of IT and the way in which companies leverage it for advantage in an increasingly digital era.

A factor that will continue to have prominence in everybody’s minds in the coming years is security. While security is a critical topic it is also one which is frequently driven by perception and emotion rather than a comprehensive assessment of the risks and benefits involved.  When thinking about it logically, in-house systems often use their position inside the firewall as the single most important factor in ensuring security – but this attitude often simply justifies a lack of development in the kinds of comprehensive security capabilities required to truly secure data and protect it against access from different groups.  Cloud services on the other hand have usually been built from the ground up to be both secure and to keep the information and activities of different tenants separate; perhaps counter-intuitively this means that they are often more deeply built for security than many traditional on premise systems.

These issues may seem obscure at first glance, but with more and more corporate data needing to be made accessible to people and systems outside the bounds of the firewall – e.g. for mobile access, API exploitation or digital supply chain creation – it becomes critical.  The firewall as a security mechanism ceases to make sense when the majority of actors are outside its boundaries – the key is rather to have a much more granular security model focused on securing the actual assets and resources rather than simply creating an isolated community. As a result, many consider the security of cloud services to be higher for emerging use cases, since security is a multi-faceted problem and not simply a factor of ‘where’ data physically resides.

It appears clear from many observations and experiences that the implementation of cloud within businesses will only continue to increase and accelerate. As every business is different, however, so will each business’s journey be unique. The general opportunity they all share, however, is to use the cloud and its integration potential to simplify their business models and to diminish the risks of change by adopting the new behaviors of moving quickly, testing ideas at low cost and rapidly scaling successful outcomes.  In the future, such speed and adaptability will simply be accepted as the only viable route to sustainable and meaningful business execution.

Microsoft Follows Google in European Union’s “Right to Be Forgotten”

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Microsoft has decided to also comply with European Union regulations over the ‘right to be forgotten’ by introducing request forms for users who want removal of obsolete or personal information from Bing’s search results.

The law requires national and international companies operating in the European Union to entertain removal requests of links that are either obsolete, outdated, or compromise an individual’s privacy.

As of now, Microsoft requires separate forms to be submitted in order to process a request. It plans to replicate Google by introducing online forms soon, so that it can speed up the process. The form will specifically ask users to identify the link and provide reasons as to why they want it removed, and also requires submitting photo identification.

Google has pioneered developing the online form for users through which they can process link removal requests. The company immediately responded to European Court of Justice’s ruling on May 13, requiring companies to entertain data removal requests. Google received around 12,000 requests on the first day it started accepting forms. Till now, more than 70,000 data removal requests have been filed with the search giant.

Currently, Microsoft’s Bing controls 3% of Europe’s search traffic, significantly lower than the 11% it controls in the US. However, other search engines in Europe, like Seznam in Czech Republic, have adopted different means to process removal requests. They ask users to file removal requests to original publishers first, and then the search engine will alter results once the content has been removed by the original publishers.