Tag Archive for 'google'

One word explains the Google superbowl ad: Bing

Google, a company that used to pride itself on the fact it never had to advertise, put an ad in the mother-of-all advertising slots: during the Superbowl, the most expensive time you can advertise in television. And this was posted on the official Google blog by the CEO Eric Schmidt, a man that doesn’t all that often post to the company blog.

Why did it break tradition, with this cute emotional-brand-building ad? Because Google now has for the first time a real competitor, in the rising Bing – Microsoft’s rebranded search engine boosted by the $100 million Powerset acquisition. Bing’s search technology may still lag far behind, but it’s certainly ringing a bell on the marketing side and growing quite healthily as a result. And as well all know, the reason we search is less because we think it’s better technology, but more so because of the importance we place on the brand that we feel comfort in.

Google’s ad was cute. But capitalism is all about self-interest, and for the few million Google had to spend on this seemingly non-informative ad, what management are thinking is quite clear to me. That being, Google’s trying to revamp the emotional attachment we have with the world’s most loved brand. But more tellingly, from the very top, Google’s scared as hell and is now protecting what they know matters the most in the search engine wars: the emotional connection to a brand.

Facebook’s no longer a startup

Facebook pokeFacebook announced today that they became cash-flow positive in the last quarter. This is a big deal, and should be looked at in the broader context of the Internet’s development and the economy’s resurgence.

The difference between a start-up and a growth company
There are four stages in the life-cycle of a business: start-up, growth, maturity, and decline.

In tech, we tend to obsess over the “start-up” – a culture that idolises small, nimble teams innovating every day. Bu there is a natural consequence of getting better, bigger, and more dominant in a market – you become a big company. And big company’s can do a lot more (and less) than when they could as startup’s.

Without going too much into the difference between the cycles, it’s worth mentioning that a functional definition to differentiate a “startup” business from a “growth” business is its financial performance. Meaning, a startup can be one who has revenues and expenses – but the revenues don’t tend to cover the operating costs of a business. A growth business on the other hand, is experiencing the same craziness of a start-up – but is now self-supporting because its revenues can over its costs.

This makes a big difference in a company, lest of all longer term sustainability. When a business is cashflow negative, it risks going bankrupt and management’s attention can be distracted by attempts to raise money. But at least now with Facebook finally going cash-flow positive, it has one less thing to worry about and can now grow with a focus less on survival and more on dominance.

Cash register

Looking at history
Several years after the Dot Com bubble, I remember reading an article by a switched on journalist. He was talking about the sudden growth of Google, and how Google could potentially bring the tech industry back from the ashes. He was right.

Google has created a lot of innovative products, but its existence has had two very important impacts on the Internet’s development.

First of all, there was adsense – a innovative new concept in advertising that millions of websites around the world could participate in. Google provided the web a new revenue model that has supported millions of content creators, utility providers, and marketplaces powered by the Internet.

Secondly, Google created a new exit model. Startup’s now had a new hungry acquisition machine, giving startups more opportunities to get funded as Venture Capitalists no longer relied on an IPO to make their money – which had now been effectively killed thanks to the over-engineered requirements of Sarbanes Oxley.

Why Facebook going cashflow positive is a big deal
Facebook is doing what Google did, and it’s money and innovation will drive the industry to a new level. Better still, its long been regarded that technology is what helps economies achieve growth again, and so the growth of Facebook will not only see a rebuilding of the web economy but also of the American one. The multiplier effect of Facebook funding the ecosystem will be huge.

And just like Google, Facebook will likely be pioneering a new breed of advertising network that benefits the entire Internet. And even if it fails in doing that, its cash will at least fund the next hype cycle of the web.

So mark this day as when the nuclear winter has ended – it’s spring time boys and girls. We my not have a word like Web2.0 to describe the current state of the Internets evolution, but whatever its called, that era has now begun.

Google Wave will take a generation

google wave logoChris Saad used to ask me questions about tech in enterprise due to my history (I’ve got the battle scars rolling out web2.0 at PwC), but he asked me after he wrote this post. So instead of telling him he’s wrong by email (ironic given the topic), I’m going to shame him to the world!

Why Google Wave will take over ten years to turn into a trending wave
As I previously wrote when the news of Google’s new technology was announced, there is a hidden detail Google hasn’t announced to the world: it requires massive computational power to pull off. It doesn’t take a brain to realise it either – anyone thats used a bloated Instant Messenger (like Lotus Same Time) probably understands this. All that rich media, group chat, real time – Jesus, how many fans are we going to need now to blow the steam generated by our computer processors? Mozilla pioneered tabbed browsing – and it’s still trying to pioneer on the same idea – from your computer crashing when you have more than a few tabs open!

Don’t get me wrong, Google Wave is phenomenal. But it’s only the beginning. The fact Google has opened this up to the world is a good thing. But we need to be realistic, because even if this technology is distributed (like how email is), the question I want to know is how many users can one server support? I’d be surprised at these early stages if it’s more than a dozen (the demo itself showed there’s still a lot of work to be done). Do I have inside knowledge? No – just common sense and experience with every other technology I’ve used to date.

Why Google Wave won’t hit the enterprise in the next 12 months
Now to the point where Saad is *really* wrong. “20% of enterprise users will be using wave in the first 12 months for more than 50% of their comms (replacing email and wiki)“.

chris saad google wave

Yeah right. It’s going to take at least three years, with a stable and mature technology, for this to work. Email sucks, but it also works. IT departments, especially in this economy, are not going to try a new form of communication that’s half working and is not a mass adopted technology (wiki’s are a new thing – there’s a cultural battle still being fought within enterprises).

The real time nature potentially might even scare communications departments. Entire divisions exist in firms like mine, to control the message sent to employees. If you are revealing a message before the final message has been crafted, you’ve given away control to that message – the process now becomes just as important as the final message. I understand this functionality can be turned off, but I’m raising it to highlight how enterprises think.

Google Wave rocks
Again, don’t get me wrong. Google Wave blows my mind. But let’s be realistic here – big ideas take time. It took a while for Google the search engine to domiante. Heck, Gmail has taken nearly a decade to get to the point of being called dominant. And you can fix bugs, deploy software, and roll out sales teams – but sometimes with big ideas, it’s a generational thing.

Wave will dominate our world communications – one day. But not for a while.

Google Wave’s dirty little secret

google wave logoGoogle has announced a new technology that is arguably the boldest invention and most innovative idea to come out in recent years for the Internet (full announcement here).

It has the potential to replace email, instant messenging, and create a new technical category for collaboration and interactivity in the broadest sense. However hidden in the details, is a dirty little secret about the practicality of this project.

Google Wave is transformative, but it also is a technical challenge. If adopted, it will entrench cloud computing and ultimately Google’s fate as the most dominant company in the world.

The challenge in its development
For the last two years, the Google Sydney office has been working on a “secret project”. It got to the stage where the office – which runs the Google Maps product (another Sydney invention) – was competing for resources and had half the office dedicated to developing it. So secret was the project, that only the highest level of Google’s management team in Mountain View knew about it. Googler’s in other parts of the world either didn’t know about it, or people like me in the local tech scene, knew it was something big but didn’t know what exactly.

However although I didn’t know what exactly it was, I was aware of the challenge. And basically, it boils down to this: it’s a difficult engineering feat to pull off. The real time collaboration, which is at the core of what this technology provides, requires computationally a huge amount of resources for it to work.

It needs everyone to use it
Although we are all digging into the details, one thing I know for a fact, is that Google wants to make this as open as possible. It wants competitors like Microsoft, Yahoo and the entire development community to not just use it – but be a big driver in its adoption. For collaboration to work, you need people – and it makes little sense to restrict it to only a segment of the Internet population (much the same like email). Google’s openness isn’t being driven out of charity, but pure economic sense: it needs broad-based market adoption for this to work.

federation_diagram_fixed2

Only few can do it
However, with lots of people using it comes another fact: only those with massive cloud computing capabilities will be able to do this. Google practically invented and popularised the most important trend in computing right now. A trend where the industrial age’s economies of scale has come to play – reminding us that there are aspects of the Information Economy that are not entirely different from the past. What Google’s Wave technology does, is give a practical application that relies on cloud computing for its execution. And if the Wave protocol becomes as ubiquitous as email and Instant Messaging – and goes further to become core to global communications – then we will see the final innings to who now runs this world.

Wave is an amazing technology, and I am excited to see it evolve. But mark my words: this open technology requires a very expensive setup behind the scenes. And those that will meet this setup, will be our masters of tomorrow. Google has come to own us due to its innovation in information management – now watch Act II as it does the same for communications.

Google should acquire Friendfeed, the leader in the real time web

May is real time month: everyone is now saying the latest trend for innovation is the real time web. Today, we hear that Larry Page, co-founder of Google, confirming to Loic Le Meur that real time search was overlooked by Google and is now a focus for their future innovation.

With all this talk of Google acquiring Twitter, I’m now wondering why isn’t Friendfeed seen as the best candidate to ramp up Google’s real time potential.

Friendfeed does real time better than anyone else. Facebook rules when it comes to the activity stream of a person ‚Äì meaning, tracking an individuals life and to some extent media sharing. Twitter rules for sentiment, as it’s like one massive chat room, and to some extent link sharing. But Friendfeed, quite frankly, craps all over Facebook and Twitter in real time search.

Why? Three reasons:

1) It‚Äôs an aggregator. The fundamental premise of the service is in aggregating people‚Äôs lives and their streams. People don‚Äôt even have to ever visit Friendfeed other than an initial sign up. Once someone confirms their data sources, Friendeed has a crawler constantly checking an individuals life stream AND that’s been validated as their own. It doesn‚Äôt rely on a person Tweeting a link, or sharing a video ‚Äì it‚Äôs done automatically through RSS.

2) It’s better suited for discovery. The communities for Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed are as radically different as America, Europe, and Asia are in cultures. People that use Friendfeed literally sit there discovering new content, ranking it with their “likes” and expanding it with their comments to items. It’s a social media powerhouse.

3) It’s better technology. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook has an amazing team. But they don’t have the same focus. With less people and less money – but with a stricter focus – Friendfeed actually has a superior product specifically when it comes to real time search. Their entire service is built around maximizing it.

Up until now, I‚Äôve been wondering about Friendfeed’s future. It has a brilliant team rolling out features I didn‚Äôt even realise I needed or could have. But I couldn’t see the value proposition ‚Äì or rather, I don‚Äôt have the time to get the value out of Friendfeed because I have a job that distracts me from monitoring that stream!

But now it‚Äôs clear to me that Friendfeed is a leader in the pack – a pack that’s now shaping into a key trend of innovation. And given the fact the creator of Gmail and Adsense is one of the co-founders, I couldn‚Äôt imagine a better fit for Google.

Best error message ever (for Data Portability in action)

As we were preparing for the upgrade of DataPortability Project’s website, we realised we needed to close off some of our legacy mailing lists…but we didn’t want to lose the hundreds of people already on these mailing lists. So we decide to export the emails and paste them into the new Google group as subscribers.

I then got this error message.

email permissions

The has to be one of the best error messages I have ever seen. Yes I’m happy that I could port the data from a legacy system/group to a new one, using an open standard (CSV). Yes, I was impressed that the Google Groups team supports this functionality (who I am told is just one Google engineer and are completely understaffed). But what blew me away was the fact Google was able to recognise how to treat these emails.

These particular people have opted to not allow someone to reuse their e-mail, other than the intended purpose for which they submitted it (which was to be subscribed to this legacy Group). Google recognised that and told me I wasn’t allowed to do it as part of my batch add.

That’s Google respecting their users, while making life a hell of a lot easier for me as an administrator of these mailing lists.

I’m happy to be helped out like that, because I don’t want to step on any toes. And these people are happy, because they have control of the way their data is used. That’s what I call “Awesome”.

Data portability allows mashup for Australian bush fire crisis

Last night in Australia, one of the states developed a series of bush fires that have ravaged communities – survivors describe it as “raining fire” that came out of no where. As I write this, up to 76 people have been killed.

Victorian AU Fires 2009
The sky is said by Dave Hollis to look how it is in the movie ‘Independence Day’

An important lesson has come out out of this. First, the good stuff.

Googler Pamela Fox has created an invaluable tool to display the bush fires in real time. Using Google technologies like App engine and the Maps API (which she is the support engineer for), she’s been able to create a mashup that helps the public.

She can do so because the Victorian Fire department supports the open standard RSS. There are fires in my state of New South Wales as well, but like other Fire Department’s in Australia, there is no RSS feed to pull the data from (which is why you won’t see any data on the map from there) It appears states like NSW do support RSS for updates, but it would be more useful if there was some consistency – refer to discussion below about the standards.

For further information, you can read the Google blog post.

While the Fire Department’s RSS allows the portability of the data, it doesn’t have geocodes or a clear licence for use. That may not sound like a big deal, but the ability to contextualise a piece of information in this case matters a hell of a lot.

As a workaround, Pamela sent addresses through the Google geocoder to develop a database of addresses with latitude and longtitude.

GeoRSS and KML
In the geo standards world, two dominant standards exist that enable the portability of data. One is an extension to RSS (GeoRSS) that allows you to extend an RSS feed to show geodata. The other in Keyhole Markup Language, which was a standard developed by Google. GeoRSS is simply modifying RSS feeds to be more useful, while KML is more like how HTML is.

If the CFA and any other websites had supported them either of these standards, it would have made life a lot more easier. Pamela has access to Google resources to translate the information into a geocode and even she had trouble. (Geocoding the location data was the most time-consuming of the map-making process.)

The lessons
1) If you output data, output it in some standard structured format (like RSS, KML, etc).
2) If you want that data to be useful for visualisation, include both time and geographic (latitude/longitude information). Otherwise you’re hindering the public’s ability to use it.
3) Let the public use your data. The Google team spent some time to ensure they were not violating anything by using this data. Websites should be clearer about their rights of usage to enable mashers to work without fear
4) Extend the standards. It would have helped a lot of the CFA site extended their RSS with some custom elements (in their own namespace), for the structured data about the fires. Like for example <cfa:State>Get the hell out of here</cfa>.
5) Having all the Fire Department’s using the same standards would have make a world of difference – build the mashup using one method and it can be immediately useful for future uses.

Pamela tells me that this is the fifth natural disaster she’s dealt with. Every time there’s been an issue of where to get the data and how to syndicate it. Data portability matters most for natural disasters- people don’t have time to deal with scraping HTML (didn’t we learn this with Katrina?).

Let’s be prepared for the next time an unpredictable crisis like this occurs.

Control doesn’t necessarily mean access

I was approached by multiple people – PR professionals and journalists alike – after I gave my presentation at the kickstart forum yesterday. Whilst I doubt DataPortability is something they will pick up on for feature stories given the product focus these journalists have, the conversations with them were extremely encouraging and I am thank full to get their feedback.

One conversation particularly stood out for me, which was with John Hepworth – a former engineer whose has been freelance writing for over 20 years, and it was in the context of the ability to port your health information. I’ve been thinking a lot of the scenario whereby consumers can move their health records from clinics, and with Google Health launching and the discussions in the DataPortability forums I am certainly not alone. Something that caught my attention was Deepak Singh who recently posted an interesting perspective: we shouldn’t give users access to their health records, because they will make uninformed judgments if they have control of them. That’s an excellent point, but one which prickles the whole issue of not just who owns your data, but who should have access to it (including yourself).

Hepworth provided a simple but extremely insightful position to this issue: you don’t need to give users the ability to see their data, for them to control it. Brilliant!

The benefits of controlling your data, needs to be looked at not just in the context of the laws of a country, but on the net benefit it provides to an individual. Comments provided by your physicians in your medical history, whilst although they deserve to be given ownership to the individual they are about, they also need to be given access to people who are qualified to make educated judgments. In others words, you should have the right to port your data to another doctor, but you should only have access to it in the presence of a qualified doctor.

DataPortability should not equate in you seeing your data all the time – rather it should be about determining how it gets used by others.

Search, email and wikis are the catalysts for innovation

A colleague added me to their network of trust on spock, one of the new people search engines, and so I had a play around. Spock and its competitors have come about on the premise that a large amount of search engine traffic is purely due to people: about 7% of all searches are for a person’s name, estimates search engine Ask.com. One percent of the search market is estimated to be worth a billion dollars, so this is a significant market opportunity.

Now take a step back into my mind this year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about e-mail this past year: first as I explained to people why wikis and blogs are a better way to collaborate than via e-mail; and more recently, as I prepare a whitepaper for January 2008 proposing we replace using e-mail for our corporate communications with RSS. E-mail is the default tool at my firm and its opened up doors to do things we couldn’t do before, but it’s also why we have e-mail overload, as e-mail wasn’t designed to do this.

Can you now see something I am noticing? Established general technologies like search and e-mail – now being replaced by more specific functions. Some would say you are defining a previously unrecognised niche. That is afterall, what is means to be an entrepreneur.

Traditional Search and traditional e-mail are powerful tools. People over-use them to do all sorts of things that they couldn’t do before. As these general tools were adopted, people could experiment and push boundary’s in ways the inventors of the technologies never thought before. And bam – that’s why we have a love hate relationship with e-mail; and why search has become the default industry underlying the web economy. They are doing something we now need; but because they weren’t invented to deal with that specific need, it is more like a blunt tool being used when all is needed is a glass pick.

Innovation is coming
I’ve been told repeatedly that technology should not drive strategy. I agree to some extent. However, I’ve also proved the management at my firm wrong on that point by results. When I proposed a firm wiki, and it was approved, it was taken as a risk. All I needed was that gateway to get in behind the door, and just let it do its magic. I have witnessed first hand when you give people a wiki – or probably better said a mashup enabler – you will see them take to it because they can now do things they never imagined. A general tool like the wiki in its freedom to manipulate the structure, has allowed staff members to create new ways of satisfying their painpoints. Technology should not drive strategy – I agree. But one thing I am convinced of, is that you need to just drop a technology onto a userbase, and let them experiment. Give them the potential to do something – things you never thought they needed – and watch them take to it like honey to a bee. Technology can help drive innovation through (accidental) imagination, which in turn can drive strategy

How does this link with innovation? MacManus has lamented on the lack of innovation on the web. I’m thinking something else. As these general technology tools have been adopted by people, new niches are being discovered. As I responded to MacManus’s article: the guy that invented the wheel was brilliant; but the guy that attached another three was a genius.

Think innovation on the web is dead? I think it’s just starting.

Ouch – widgets bypassing Google’s wall

Feedjit
On the right of my blog as I write this, I have a widget – it’s a simple piece of javacript, from the company Feedjit, that allows me to embed a short piece of code to indicate to my readers how other people find my blog. Since the launch of the widget, it seems like it has become very popular with 60 million widgets claimed by the company’s website.

I made a discovery today almost by accident: I accessed my blog on another computer. Or rather, I accessed my blog via Google’s cache – who have replicated my content for their search results, widgets and all. Now when you look at the Feedjit widget (image below left), the data is very different: it no longer shows visitors to my blog, but visitors to Google servers.

If you follow through to the detailed statistics you will even see what the most popular sites are that day, as well as the locations of the visitors. As this is data from the Google cache server, you are effectively getting an analysis of visitors – who they are, what keywords they are searching for, and what they found. So because my blog is part of Google cache, I can effectively hack and sneak in the backdoor of Google’s data.

(Having a quick look, it seems this URL is the main Google cache address; however data will only get logged when someone looks at the cache.)

Feedjit google cacheDoes it matter?
While this is a fun thing to look at and then move on, I think it raises some serious issues – multiple ones at that.

On widgets: With the prolifiration of widgets on the web, has this become potentially the next biggest security risk on the web?

On privacy: It’s not that hard to identify the people making those searches. Search engines handing over data to the government has been a hot issue, with Google resisiting a much hyped story as the company tried to prove it protected its users. With the growing cross-pollination of the web, exemplified with widgets, are we prepared for what it means to have open data (which is becoming inevitable)?

On metrics: Google has a complete download of my blog in its cache, but what I didn’t realise, is that it is a copy of the full blog (with scripts like my web stats). When I look at my statistics, I see an awful lot of activity from computer bots for example. Is this because every time Google, Yahoo or MSN analyse content that has been ripped off my site, I can actually see what they are doing behind their closed walls?

Those are questions with simple but also complicated answers. Either way, if its that easy to hack even Google, then God help us.