Category Archives: Google

Google is a media company

I was listening to a recent conversation between Siva Vaidhyanathan, the author of “Googalization of Everything” and Matt Brittin, the newly appointed CEO of Google UK.

While I found the overall conversation interesting, one particular phrase caught my attention.  When he was defending Google against allegation of being parasitic (i.e. they do not produce content, but only provide access to it), Matt Brittin said that it is an: “easy criticism to level, particularly in a really tough downturn, which is affecting media companies all over the world including Google” (emphasis added).

Of course this is not a trend (yet?), but I find it really interesting that Google high-level executive  talks about the company in terms of media.  I think it further contributes to our growing realization that information and communication technologies (ICTs) as social factors are becomming more and more amalgamted with content.  This is a really interesting contribution to the argument that it is important to consider content related aspects when we talk about technology or in other words that we are talking about media, information, and communication technology (MICT) and not just ICT.

Just a note I wonted to take and to share.

… and even harder…

Now it looks like Gmail is getting folders (via VentureBeat).   They call them “multiple inboxes”, but, unless i am missing something, it is just a smarter way of working with folders – you can view a number of them open at the same time.  I was missing some combination of folders and labels in Gmail, so I think it is a positive development.  Combined with an option of working in an offline mode, it makes it more and more attractive.

I wonder though, with the offline mode, is it now possible to backup Gmail the same way one could back-up an Outlook PST file?  Also, what about Google calendar?  Is there an offline mode of working with it too?  Coming soon?  Could be great!

Can’t… resist… Google… can’t… resist…

I think I’ve been somewhat hypocritical about Google.  On the one hand, since I started blogging, I voiced occasional criticism of Google, concern about it collecting all this information about us, and the fact that its search algorithm is turning into a lens through which we comprehend reality.  On the other hand, I am using many of Google’s services, because, what can you do, they create great products.  The result of this self search – I am not really doing what I preach.

I tried to think about all the Google products I use (from the most to the least used I think)…  Google, Gmail, Reader, Picasa, Youtube, Google docs, Google Calendar, G-Talk, Google Analytics… so whom am I kidding about being a careful user of Google’s products?  Just about a year ago, II used to log off my Google account when I did not need it, but I noticed that I am not doing it anymore.  So maybe it is time to stop pretending and simply embrace it?

What would it mean for me to embrace it?  I guess it would mainly mean dropping some of my clients and switching completely to Google application.  Today, I use Gmail with MS Outlook client and I refer to Google calendar or Google docs only for group projects.  “Embracing” would probably mean skipping MS Outlook and relying solely on the web applications.  I think I would also start using i-Google.

My main concern in this case is backup.  A while ago, I had a very unpleasant encounter with Google, when I got locked out of my Gmail account for almost a week.  There was nobody to talk to, because Google does not have a costumer support in a traditional sense and was really bad with getting back on the service requests submitted through its online support.  If that happens when Google is my main organizational tool, I will be in big trouble.  But maybe there are backup solutions that I am not aware of?

What do you think?

Google’s roots

Recently Google published its quarterly reports, showing 26% growth in profit, which is particularly impressive in light of the escalating economic crisis (more here).  The primary reason for such growth is attributed to strengthening of Google’s brand among advertisers and its growing (advertising) market share.  For example, AdSense alone generated revenue of US $1.68 billion.  Very impressive!

Ironically, Veronica was reading the very first (and I don’t know if the only) article Brin and Page have published about Google.  It is available here and you are welcome to read it.

Why is it ironic you ask?  Well, if you go to Appendix A in the article, they write:

“advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers”

and they continue:

“Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious. A good example was OpenText, which was reported to be selling companies the right to be listed at the top of the search results for particular queries [Marchiori 97]. This type of bias is much more insidious than advertising, because it is not clear who “deserves” to be there, and who is willing to pay money to be listed. This business model resulted in an uproar, and OpenText has ceased to be a viable search engine. But less blatant bias are likely to be tolerated by the market. For example, a search engine could add a small factor to search results from “friendly” companies, and subtract a factor from results from competitors. This type of bias is very difficult to detect but could still have a significant effect on the market. Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results. For example, we noticed a major search engine would not return a large airline’s homepage when the airline’s name was given as a query. It so happened that the airline had placed an expensive ad, linked to the query that was its name. A better search engine would not have required this ad, and possibly resulted in the loss of the revenue from the airline to the search engine. In general, it could be argued from the consumer point of view that the better the search engine is, the fewer advertisements will be needed for the consumer to find what they want. This of course erodes the advertising supported business model of the existing search engines. However, there will always be money from advertisers who want a customer to switch products, or have something that is genuinely new. But we believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.”

So yes… very critical take on online advertising in 1998 (including siting Bagdikian!) and $5.54 billion revenue primarily from online advertising in 2008.  Ironic, isn’t it?  I am of course not suggesting that Google is taking money for promotion of companies to higher search results, but at the same time, I don’t think we can deny Google’s proactive role in shaping our current advertisement industry and commercialization of the internet.  In fact, this is a great example of the Structuration Theory, but that is for a different post.

P.S. Today in Google if you are based in the US and you search for cellular phone, the first thing you get are Google.news results, followed by a Wikipedia article, followed by T-Mobile website…

How do you say “Google” in Chinese?

There is a really vibrant discussion going on nowdays about the potential colaboration between Google and Yahoo.  Some claim that the venture can end up with Google gaining control of 90% of the advertising market in North America.  To a large degree Google’s leading position in online advertizing market is based on its leadership in the world of search, where Google is a definite global leader.

However, it appears that one place where Google isn’t winning the search (and online advertisement) battle(s) is in one the fastest growing economies today – China.  The local rival’s name is Baidu and according to this article it holds 60% of the Chinese search market, compared to Google’s 25%.  The article goes on to discussion of potential reasons for the gap, attributing it primarily to Baidu’s business practices and better cultural fit to the Chinese business culture.

I think it is a really interesting case of how culture interacts with technology and business.  I also wonder to what extent internet policies employed by the Chinese government (primarily filtering of the content) are actually helping the competitive advantage of Baidu?

Politics, popularity, and personalization

I already said that i love DC. Another reason to love it, are the many opportunities offered by this city.

A week ago or so, i participated in a debate/discussion about “new” media and political campaigns hosted by Google and National Journal and titled “The First 21-st Century Campaign“. Being hosted by Google, the event attracted some very interesting people and was held in a format of discussion rather than a traditional (academic) presentation-style lectures. Unfortunately, i wasn’t smart enough to bring a camera even though the event was absolutely open and the organizers even encouraged people capturing it in any possible way. Another unfortunate thing was that i couldn’t stay for the entire event and in fact stayed only for the first panel (out of three).

Ad of the Google's June Symposium

Fortunately, though, the first panel was very thought provoking.  Nothing super controversial or innovative has been said, but it was great to hear thet the industry people are concerned with the same issues that academics are.  Actually, i think the panel would benefit from a visionary academic person who could bring the entire discussion under a comprehensive (dare I say, macro) umbrella.

The first panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS, hosted Mark Halperin (“Time” – as a representative of the old media), Katherine Ham (Townhall.com, even though she announced she has a new job now), James Kotecki (Politico – he and Katherine were the representatives of “new” media), Phil Singer (Clinton campaign), and Kevin Madden (Mitt Romney campaign _ he and Singer were the political practitioners on the panel).

Most of the discussion focused on the tensions between the “old” and the “new” media.  In my view it started pretty awkward with Kotecki’s remark that he doesn’t see himself as a journalist and was (i got a sense that he was implying that he still is) making his video just to feel popular.  It was particularly stonning because one of the main points of the discussion was credibility of the “new” media as a journalistic practice.  Kotecki himself was making claims for being credible, which (together with some of the other comments, such as those made by Singer) got me thinking whether or not the 2.0 culture equates credibility to popularity.  If so, i find that idea pretty disturbing.  One the one hand, i can buy into the idea of wisdom of crowds (that’s the term i think), but, on the other hand, i cannot buy into dismissal of expertise that seems to be attached to it (at least in the current discussion).

Another interesting point came from the campaign people and it was primarily about the use they make of information.  For Madden, the “new” media were all about speed and precision of the media message.  Even though they never got talking explicitly about how they use microtargeting (even though i raised that questions), it was constantly implied in the examples they provided.  Building of the idea of popularity, it was now also the ability of precise targeting of the message.  I would describe that as an ability of talking about “popularities” rather than a single popularity.  To a a degree that appeared as a distinction between the “old” and the “new” media as well.  I found the latter rather interesting – the basic concepts mass (popularity) did not change, but progressed and evolved (into popularities), but the substance became implicitly even less important.  In other words, there is no substantive change in the policy or in the ideas, but the package is more personalized.

As the discussion evolved, it became more interesting and sophisticated.  To one degree or another, the panelists touched upon many relevant points.  This highlight was, I think, when Singer or Halperin, noticed that the mere division between the “old” and the “new” was artificial.  Ham also was very sharp when talking about the relations between the “old” and the “new” media (even though she was clearly advocating for the legitimacy of the latter).  I found this particularly interesting, because usually you hear a very deterministically-dichotomous discourse where the “new” is presented as separate and mostly superior to the “old”.  Even though Judy Woodruff finished the panel with some techno-utopian remarks (mostly as a tribute to the host), it did spoil the overall flavor of complexity.

On the practical level i came out of this symposium with two titles for potential books.  Not that i plan on writing those this summer, but… If i were to write a book with critical analysis of the modern Western society, particularly focusing on the youth, i would title it “The popularity generation.”  Maybe there is such a book already and maybe it will become the label of generation Y with all the reality shows and a myriad of televised competitions (for popularity of course :).  The other book would be about this campaign, or about contemporary politics in a broader sense.  That one i would title “The politics of personalization.”

Finally, kind of getting back to one of my first points, i think the symposium would really benefit from an academic input.  Maybe even more broadly, i think this industry could learn as much from the academia as the academia is learning from it.  At the end of the day, all the points raised by the panelists are being discussed and studied, and bringing those inputs would enrich the discussion and probably take it into the next level.

You can read a short post following the event on Google’s blog or you can actually watch the entire thing on C-Span (and enjoy me asking some questions :).

To shift or not to shift?

It seems to me that there is a growing trend of shifting everything online. By “everything” here I mean our personal computing. Why would you spend scarce gigabytes on your hard drive if you can keep all your email on gmail, all your documents in google docs, all your pictures in picasa, etc.? Having stuff online is not just practical in terms of saving space, but also in terms of access – your online storage can be accessed from anywhere, which is particularly convenient if you happen to use different computers at work, home, school, etc. At the same time, how much trust should we put in the third party company/s in order to keep all our information there (and i am not talking about privacy this time).

As Tarleton mentioned in his last lecture, we tend to pick on the big ones. So, it would not be surprising that I will refer here to Google, which I tend to both appreciate and examine with a critical eye. Usually, my concern with Google is about privacy and about the concentration of search services, however this time it is actually about reliability (and a little bit on consumer service :). Criticizing my skepticism, Leonichka once mentioned that he trusts Google until it does something to prove this wrong. Frankly, it was an important comment in my critical appreciation my thinking about Google. The only remaining question is what happens when this proving-wrong event actually takes place?

Last year I blogged about my not-so-pleasant encounter with gmail, when i was locked out of the email for about a week. Today I read a post by Danah Boyd about her friend’s encounter with Google. If you don’t have time/patience to read the original post, the story is simple. The guy has practically his entire life on Google (gmail, orkut, etc. – they do make great products!), but unfortunately, his account got hijacked (fishing) and soon deleted for spam abuse… (dramatic pause)… oops… (another dramatic pause)… Your work, your hobbies, your contacts, your communication – all is gone…

You do need to read more into Danah’s post to understand that it is not simple talking to Google and getting not-so-standard services from them. Eventually her friend got his data back, which raised another set of questions about “deleting” stuff from Google, but that is for another post.

I am left disturbed and puzzled after reading about this incident. On the one hand, here is a real scenario of potential lost or theft of your information stored online. That does not mean that the same thing cannot happen with the locally stored data. Maybe that is even more common. I, for example, lost some data recently while reinstalling my laptop, but it does not change the fact that the third party online solutions are not immune. On the other hand, it is important to mention the backup services that the online repositories and services provide. I think it is safe to assume that industrial backup processes are more professional compared to a self-performed backup at home. In turn, this aspect raises again questions of privacy and of what happens when you actually want to delete the data. Not to mention of course the horrible costumer service you have to face in order to get your data back (I hope one day they will understand that opening a new account is not always the ultimate solution).

So, here is a question – to shift or not to shift? Or to maintain both environments? And when it is enough evidence to start questioning company’s integrity? When it happens to 1000 random people, 10 people you know, or when it happens to you?

Breaking down Google

Well, not really.  Just breaking down Google’s traffic.  Here is an interesting post from HitWise analyzing the breakdown of activity, originating in the US, at different Google’s services.  It is pretty amazing how the use of Google’s services is constantly growing…