Tagged: google

Words, actions, privacy.

Ember

Image: My medieval public identity…

It used to be when users kicked up a fuss, social networks quaked and gave way to their demands.

Then Facebook began a kind of two-steps-forward / user outcry / one-step-back dance with privacy and user data.

These days, as the market has matured and the incumbents feel a little more settled, their networks seem a little too hard to opt out of for users.

In a recent New York Times article about Google+, Google’s Bradley Horowitz said: “We are attuned to both what people say and what people do.”

How I read that: sure, we hear a lot of complaining, but no one’s voting with their virtual feet.

Users complain about the forcing upon them of a Google+ identity, but they don’t do much about it. They don’t close down their Gmail, start using other search engines, give YouTube a swerve. Not many of them. Not enough of them to worry about.

To data driven Google, an outcry on Twitter and in opinion articles is largely noise. People stopping using their services would be a strong signal – and they just aren’t seeing that.

I can think of a couple of people who have opted out of Facebook (a couple out of the few hundred people I’m connected to there).

As for Google, I have only met one refusenik so far – and heard tell of others in the online activist community.

Two questions come to mind:

  1. Will governments and brands begin to follow this logic? Petitions and online slacktivism, as one-click protests are derisively labelled by some, aren’t always going to signal real behaviour changes – boycotts, votes, spending money elsewhere.
  2. Are people who are opting out of Google and Facebook the start of a movement toward “de-clouding”, rejecting handing their personal data over to large corporations? It’s too early to tell whether this will remain fringe dissent or whether it will begin to spread. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and, to some extent, Apple and Amazon (the “stacks“) will be aiming to make sure the massive utility value of their services outweighs fear and suspicion of their stewardship of our data.

Online security expert Bruce Schneier calls entrusting our data to the stacks “feudal security”, a theme picked up by Aral Balkan recently in his TEDxBrighton talk.

Feaudalism works, you could argue. It worked for thousands of years. Quite apart from inequality and fairness though, feudalism kills progress – it causes stagnation, homegeneity, stasis.

I guess what Schneier and Balkan are pointing out with the feudalism metaphor is that this is a kind of opt-in feudalism – it doesn’t have to be that way. Actually, as I sit here typing into a Chrome Browser, on an iMac, before turning to my Gmail etc. – you realise that it’s no opt-in, it’s something you have to put a great deal of effort and time into opting out of…

: : As an aside, I’d be a lot more likely to use Google+ more often if I didn’t have two identities there. Reflecting on the “forcing users to have a single Google+ identity” strand in this post as I edited it, I realise – I’d love a single identity. Can I have one, please?

My work and personal email are both on Gmail, so I have two lots of circles, etc. Reminds me of this tweet I favorited [sic] the other day:

 

 

 

Google’s “Yay” vs. Twitter’s nuanced view

A Broadstuff post about the Summly acquisition by Yahoo! looks at the story as a test for how well Google works as a search engine vs. Twitter. 

Now, Google works better than anything out there if you know what it is you want to find, but Twitter, Broadstuff asserts, is where you go to understand what’s really going on… 

Read Google, and you’d barely know anything about Summly because the first 7 pages comprise of press regurgitation and it has utterly failed at telling you anything useful about it….

…But search Twitter, and you get a totally different story. Twitter, despite a reputation for being celebrity and inanity obsessed, is in fact – on the basis of my search anyway, far less so than Google. What is certain is that Twitter gave me a far fuller picture, within the first page I got, and, in this case anyway was the better search engine by far.

The whole media world optimises for Google, it goes on to say, which is making it less useful.

Think clusters, not websites

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Adam Tinworth thinks that Google Authorship’s evolution could be

another major step in Google stepping away from the website as the core unit of the web, towards the page and its author – with authorship and author reputation a core part of how search works.

This is something my friend James Byford drummed into me. The web wasn’t designed to connect websites, but individual things – information, pages, paragraphs, people, objects . 

This is how we experience and use the web, for the most part. In bits.

Clusters and hubs and collections are important on the web, in terms of making things findable, their reputation more readily understood. But when thinking about online presence, a website isn’t always the best model to be thinking about. 

We nod when people talk about content ecosystems, but I’m not sure we always think about what that really means. The overlapping and interdependent complexities of reputations and networks are befuddling. We retreat to manageable, quantifiable metaphors. 

Long term trends: The Ngrams Viewer

“A database of intentions” is how John Battelle described Google. It is a thrilling concept, at times unsettling, that you can see into the searching soul of the connected populace by seeing the words they use t find things.

Google Trends is one of those miraculous tools of the web that has quickly become commonplace. With a prophylactic time-lapse to keep its powerful advantage of insight, Google lets us see what people were search for by year and by region.

The other day I came across the Google Ngrams Viewer for the first time. This gives a slightly longer trends view in language, taking all the books since 1800 as its data set (actually up to 2008, I think).

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Google’s Art Project

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image: Detail from The Great Day of His Wrath, by John Martin

If you haven’t seen it already, take some time to go and explore Art Project, a collaboration between Google and some of the world’s top galleries. Use the highest definition screen you can find…

Going along on street view on Google Maps, you see the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

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You can then wander around the museum…

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Then click on a painting and see it in very high definition…

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Image: Detail from The Dream by Henry Rousseau

In Peter Day‘s annual tech trends interview in with Mark Andersen of Strategic News Service, the latter was scathing about Google’s lack of direction and its seeming inability to monetise the outputs of its (previously) much-admired 20 per cent time.

When they produce something as wonderful as Art Project, a large of me thinks: I don’t care. Take a look for yourself, it’s just thrilling.

Causes and contexts: Arab Twitter revolutions and the origins of the First World War


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Image: A troop train in the First World War (cc) drakegoodman

@avschlieffen: Is anyone srsly suggesting trains caused the biggest war of all time? WTF!?! Get over it, you trainspotters. Rail isn’t everything.

@billthekaiser: LOL It wasn’t me it was the 11.24 to Gdansk that made me do it. ;)

Train timetables caused the biggest conflict the world had ever seen. 16 million dead, 21 million wounded. Mechanised destruction and suffering, literally on an industrial scale.

That was the argument of AJP Taylor, one of the most influential British historians of the latter part of the 20th century (and the godfather of TV dons). What he said was that the plans for troop movements a large scale war against both France and Russia simultaneously by German military planners depended on a sequence of trains deploying troops quickly to both fronts. Once you pressed the button, as it were, there was no turning back. If you paused you would lose the advantage and then the war.

So when they thought they had to go to war, the logic of the technology, the context created by the communications technology of the time (trains and telegraphs, to put it simply) meant that Germany had to commit completely.

It was a startling insight. Tragic and disorientating when you thought it through – this apocalypse was brought about by a human’s decision, but one which was warped by the technology, the systems they had created about themselves.

The web reveals the complexity of the world about us. It speeds things up. This much we know.

One effect of this is a flight to simplicity, it seems. People see the complexity and can’t accept – they want to know cause and effect: thing x causes thing y. Yes or no. You agree or disagree. Win or WTF.

It’s hard in 140 characters to include caveats and disclaimers, maybe that’s part of it.

Take the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia over the past few weeks. Communications technology and social networks have been present, both on the streets, among the protagonists.

Did Facebook cause the revolution? Is it a Twitter revolution? These are partly silly questions, partly interesting ideas to follow through. Historians will soon enough, why shouldn’t we?

One thing is perspective, another is evidence, and then there’s time to reflect, think over hypotheses for and against. As events occur, it is hard to get a lot of any of these things.

Which is why a lot of the Twitter updates I’ve seen on this subject are likely to be filed/filtered as less useful noise, less likely to follow the links if they are saying something binary and self-evidently unconsidered “It’s a Twitter revolution!” or “social networks play no part in it – get over yourselves you technocrat Western narcissists.”

It is not unimaginable that the presence of web technologies have enabled people to communicate and coordinate street actions – there seems to be evidence that is the case. Twitter’s not the sole cause of the uprisings, just as train timetables were not the sole cause of the Great War.

Social networking technology and mobile phones are important part of the context, not of the causes of these events.

On a different, related note: corporations and Governments will behave differently about diplomacy because of the logic, the context of a hyper-connected world. Transparency will be assumed, knowledge will be assumed, the inevitability or high likelihood of disclosure will colour decision-making.

Twitter and Facebook and Google aren’t going to be the root causes of these things, but they will be the context, why things are able to happen in certain ways, why people choose to do certain things, for good and ill.

Coming back to the main point of this post, though – we shouldn’t waste energy on black and white debates about technology and current affairs. Acknowledge the fuzziness, embrace complexity – it’s the only useful way to make sense of the world.

: : For a useful analysis of the arguments around this issue (and links to some of the most interesting points of view) I recommend reading Matthew Ingram’s post on GigaOm It’s Not Twitter or Facebook, It’s the Power of the Network

: : And before any scholars jump in about the Twitter joke, yes I know Alfred von Schlieffen was dead by the time the First World War broke out. :)

Blogs become mainstream media

In the hype-sphere the chatter is all about Foursquare and Facebook: blogging doesn’t get much of a mention.

While I still prize blogging as a form of personal media and a networked productivity and knowledge tool, its clear to see that blogs as a media format are mature and in the mainstream.

Two posts I read recently spoke of this. First, in her analysis of Google’s launch of Boutiques.com (well worth a read in itself), iCrossing journalist Jo-Ann Fortune points out that alongside fashion celebrities, the company brought on board fashion bloggers:

…Google has enlisted the help of style icon celebrities such as Olivia Palermo, the Olsen twins and Carey Mulligan and fashion bloggers including Jane of Sea of Shoes, Alix, aka The Cherry Blossom Girl and Susie Lau from London-based Style Bubble, to tell that story. These taste-shapers ‘curate’ their own boutiques, based on their favourite pieces as well as their personal style – the sum of their preferred designers, shapes, patterns and styles-, allowing those inspired by their style to join them on a virtual shopping spree.

The inclusion of fashion bloggers alongside the ‘traditional’ celebrities just goes to show how far this new breed of public personality has come. Stylist.co.uk this week disclosed how three female fashion, beauty and celebrity bloggers make between 35k and 80k a year each, revealing that the brand they build from their blog is worth much more than the blog itself.

And Reed’s blogging expert, Adam Tinworth, points to some marketing by Microsoft for its new phone as evidence of blogs in the mainstream (“another tipping point” as he puts it).

A quote. On a huge advert. In one of the mainline commuter stations. In one of the biggest cities in the world.

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As a media format blogs are still as potentially disruptive as they ever where, but some of them are firmly part of the established media landscape now…

Q: What’s the number one thing people want their browser to do?

A: Block ads.

Sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves of the simple truths about online media and marketing.

Like the fact that, given the choice, a lot of people don’t want banner ads, pop-ups and other sundry promotional interruptions getting in the way of whatever they are dong.

I was reminded of this when Google kindly turned on the ability to add extensions for the Chrome browser on Macs today.

Number one on the list of things I could download to improve my browser was Ad-Block

And down there at the bottom you can see another version. Half a million unique users that don’t see a thing…

My top ten pieces of advice for looking after your web shadow


A while ago I did a video for the Insititute of Chartered Accountants called “12 Golden Rules for Online Personal Reputation Management“.

I really enjoyed it, and played with the idea for a bit, then decided to write a book about the subject. It’s called Web Shadows and will be finished any day now * ahem *. The paper (yes, paper) version will be out in March 2010

It’s a book for my friends who aren’t totally obsessed with the web and social media, but do have a creeping awareness that what is said about them online matters and that they maybe need to look after their personal reputation a little.

Headlines like Office worker sacked for branding work boring on Facebook in the Telegraph and surveys that say 45% of employers vet job candidates on social networks make them think that even more.

If you take my iCrossing e-book Brands in Networks, I guess Web Shadows will be People in Networks. But that would spell PIN, and anyway I get told off for talking about networks too much, so Web Shadows it almost certainly is.

Anyway, here’s my top ten pieces of advice as they stand today. If you let me know what you think I’d be very grateful:

1 Don’t think of online as another world: The web’s more like a layer over the world we live in, not a “cyberspace” that only geeks live in. It’s part of our lives. The more we think of it as part of the world we live in, the better we will be at using it and looking after ourselves in relation to our online presence.

2 Check your Google shadow (and keep checking it): make sure you can see what others see when they look for you online, wether that’s Google, Facebook, LinkedIn or whatever. (Jeff Jarvis’s Google shadow phrase is what got me to “web shadows” as a title for the book.)

3 Be the world’s leading source of information about yourself: Ideally you want people to find your website, or cluster of social network profiles before they find anything else.

4 Understand networks (and which networks are important to you): Explore the online world around you. Which spaces matter to people that matter to you: employers, colleagues, friends, etc. It doesn’t hurt to start to understand network theory 101. Principles like “every node that joins the network doubles its value” help you to feel less like a supplicant and more like a network citizen. A part of it, not a passive. An owner among owners of a shared space, with rights – and responsibilities to the network.

5 Learn “crap detection” skills: One of Howard Rheingold’s four digital literacies, “crap detection” (the phrase comes from Hemingway) is about being a critical user of the web. Spotting the scams, attention tricks, the bahaviours that means that someone you have met online isn’t a person, or is one you need to stay away from. It’s part experience and part knowing how to use the network technically to understand – sometimes literally – where someone is coming from.

6 Be useful to your networks: You don’t need to turn into a pain-in-the-whatever professional networking douche to be successful in looking after your web shadow. Be yourself. Make the most of the things that you do – put your presentations and articles from the newsletter on SlideShare, bookmark interesting things you find on Delicious, maybe try out blogging even. once

7 Think about private and public: The web is a public place. You’re going to need to think about the dividing lines between your professional self online and your private self – where are they going to be? Get to know the privacy settings on Facebook for starters… And don’t forget to tell your family about them too.

8 Remember: you’re always on the (permanent) record online: “You’re never off the record,” we used to tell clients when I worked in PR. It’s true all the time when we’re online now. Don’t say anything you might regret later. If you are angry: calm down. Been drinking? Sober up or shut the web connection down. And the record may be permanent, like a digital tattoo.

9 Get a thicker skin: So you’re always on the record – so what? Everyone else is too. You’re going to make mistakes, get into arguments, look a bit foolish sometimes. The alternative is being a digital hermit, which… well… if you want to, I suppose.

10 Make it work for you: So we have had email addiction, SMS addiction and now, if you want to, you can become a social web addict. Or you can learn how the social web works and use it to enhance your life. Articles and posts like this one are good while you’re learning the tools’ basics – then you need to make your own mind up about how it should work for you.