Thanks For Sharing… I Think

Image coutesy of http://isageeks.com/mobile/google-privacy/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.

Now Endorsement Spam?

LinkedIn spammingAs 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.

Happy Birthday Google (Sorry I’m Late)

Googles 15th birthday logo

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!

Google Tightens the Noose

Google no longer providing analytics informationIf you are an SEO guy trying to get your pages found near the top of the major search engines, it’s important to know what search terms users are searching on which took them to your page. This “search referral” is passed by the search engine to the site as part of the process, and web geeks use these as part of their Google Analytics arsenal of weapons to help get their stuff found. About a year back, Google as part of its constant campaign to secure the “privacy” interests of its searchers (no really!), Google moved the goalposts. If a searcher is logged on from any kind of Google application like GMail or YouTube then Google encrypted the referring search term leaving webmasters scratching their heads for a good percentage of all traffic from Google. The exception was for paid clicks where the end user clicked on any Google ad and the Webmaster still received the referring info. At the time they first rolled this out I noted that it was perhaps a tad disingenuous to encrypt some search terms but not others, surely if the issue really is privacy then a click is a click.

Roll forward to present day and the transition is complete. Irrespective of whether you are logged into a Google site or not, Google no longer passes the referring search term to the poor bloody SEO guys. From now on in, if you are running a site and you want to find out what search terms are bringing users to you, you will either have to pay for the premium Google Analytics tools package or buy clicks through Google’s various advertising options. This problem doesn’t apply to the other search engines… only Google cares this much about your “privacy”.

I appreciate that this is mind wrenchingly tedious to the average web user. But seen in the wider context where Google is still trying to maintain its hard earned cute and friendly façade, it’s pretty telling. Put simply… if you want to play with Google there is a price for everything.

Another Crazy Week in Toon Town

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.

Gordon Ramsay’s Own Kitchen Nightmare

Gordon Ramsey's Own Kitchen NightmareI 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.

I Wasn’t Using My Fourth Amendment Rights Anyway

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?

Microsoft’s Finish Adventure

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!

Google Goes Dallas

Amanda RosenbergIt’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.

Google’s Book Report up for Review

Google-book-reviews 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.