How to make the best use of your Google+ profile

Back when I was invited to Google+, it took me less than a week to realise what a big phenomenon it would become; and while it felt good to be a part of that before public release, I also realised I had to leverage its power and integration to my benefit: specifically to benefit my online presence, my website and so on. To a small extent, this would also affect my offline persona. In this final installment of my +You series, we shall examine how you can squeeze the juice out of your Google profile.

+You

This is the last of a 4-part article series on Google+. Read the others here:

Understand the effect of Google+ on you

Google+ as I have said many a time before, is called plus for a reason. It is designed to help Google Search in more ways than one. Today, Google+ released their new, landmark algorithm, Search plus your world, and this will exactly prove my point.

Think about it this way: you have a family doctor you stick with. You do so because he knows the ins and outs of your life, your medical history and so on. Now bring that concept into the Internet. If you are looking for something, it is quite probable (and happens about 75% of the time) that a number of concepts, news, images and videos match what you are looking for.

Now the thing that is searching for you is just that, a thing. It has no mind of its own, and it therefore becomes necessary for that robot to learn something about you. Enter Google+: as a Google+ user you have created your community, shared things you liked, declared +1 for things you liked, spoken about your thoughts, views and promoted your work. Google Search is going to start considering all such activities on your part to improve its search feature so it can deliver better search results (i.e. it can present you things closer to what you were actually looking for, than before!)

It is an entirely different story that the result of this algorithm has turned out to be a great success. But that is a topic for an entirely different blog post which I am planning on for the next couple of days.

How is this going to affect your business?

Since Google+ will come into consideration, I suggest you start considering it an extremely important part of your online presence if you haven’t already done so. Now, I do not work for Google, nor write on their behalf, but, from a neutral standpoint, I would sum it up this way:

You may be a fan of Facebook, or another infamous social network. I do not suggest you migrate from it. It is quite easily understood that you have spent your time creating a community and getting in touch with lost friends on Facebook and to many, migrating to Google+ would be a huge undoing.

All you need to do–at least–is have your Google+ profile up to date along with a Google+ badge on your site. If you do not have a site, just keep your Google+ profile filled in the manner I will now explain to you. This is an official requirement from Google, and trust me, if you are not seen in the first page of the Google search results, you might as well be invisible.

To prove my point, I have below a collage of two screenshots; on the one on your left, it shows a user searching for photography tips and another searching for Google+ daily photography themes. Notice how my articles (highlighted) are present above the fold (within the first six search results) in either case? Now these are just two I had in hand so I put them up.

Specifically, it is important that you understand the next couple of points I am going to explain. But before that, also understand that a so-called ego-search will give your Google profile right at the top of the search results (unless, perhaps, you have a good website) and potential employers looking for you might skip if the first thing that comes up is one of your questionable Facebook photographs. You get the point.

A little code magic

I would be underrating Google Search if I said all you have to do to get up on the search page like you see my article in the picture above is adding a tiny bit of code to your site/external profile. No, remember that content is still what matters and what I will explain is just a little aid. But really, it is a feature Google is working on which has not gone public so you might not see the same results that invitees like myself see. In short, our Google product pages might be a little different from yours, but do not worry; rest assured yours will get updates as well.

Now the process I am talking about is simple, but it requires you to understand a simple concept Google uses called author and me relationships. This is to a) let Google know that it is you with the Google profile who is, say, writing an article/putting up a photo; and b) let Google know that you who are, say, writing an article/putting up a photo have a linked Google profile. These are called rel HTML tags.

With me so far? Alright, I have made a small image explaining these rel tags.

HTML rel tags for Google+

Notice how this creates a virtual circle for Google+. This circle ensures Google that the person in question is really you no matter which website you participate in (and not just your blog/website) and it makes sure nobody drops into the circle uninvited and posts questionable content under your name.

rel=”author”

The first code you will have to add to your profile anywhere is the rel=”author” code, signifying that the relationship between you, the content and your profile is that you are the author. In stricter terms, it tells Google that the person with such and such a profile ID is the author because your profile ID is how Google recognises you (at least until Google makes vanity URLs a possibility.)

Google uses one key page as a sort of filter. Generally, we content creators use our author page (popularly called the About page) for this sake.

When linking from anywhere to your about page, especially when you are doing it from other pages on your site or from the navigation bar, or when you are doing it through the typical short bio that appears at the end of your articles, make sure you add this code:

This tells Google that the person whose author page is http://yourwebsite.com/about/ is the author of the article. You can take a look at my own bio at the end of this article. I have linked it to my author page using the same code above.

rel=”me”

The next code you need to add is the rel=”me” code, signifying to Google Search that you are the guy who claims to own Google Profile ID so and so. Observe how this works beautifully now (I’ll try to put forth this complicated point as best as I can!)

From everywhere you are active on the Internet, you are credited as the author and linked to a basic author page of your choice telling that page you are the author; this author page in turn links to your Google Profile telling Google that you are the owner of a given profile ID. In other words, Google now knows you with that profile ID are the author of all those other pages on the Internet.

So now we will link your author page to Google using this simple code:

You now need to head to this authorship form and fill it up. But know that you will not see changes soon; instead, the fact that you are all ready to be featured in Google’s search results will be notified to them and they will queue you when the feature is finalised and goes out as a stable public version.

The result? Something like this:

Other benefits of a good, filled Google Profile

One thing you need to understand is that Google+ profiles are really a carry over from the previously existing Google Profiles. I am quite surprised by the large number of people who had no idea of this. If, when you first joined Google+, you found your profile filled, it was because you had already entered those details in various other Google products and Google integrated all that data. However, Google Search had never been integrated with it, and that is what Google has done now.

To some, this looks like a cunning marketing strategy to get people to use Google+ but to others, including myself, this is a wonderful (not to mention easy) way to get worthy publicity, especially if you are a content creator (and all bloggers are.) Google is on its way to integrating the web and creating a smarter experience for everybody who deserves it, and they are using Google+ to personalise everything for a person. The fact therefore is that you need to use your Google+ Profile to leverage Google Search just like Search is using your Profile!

Why not Facebook?

Now you might wonder why Facebook cannot do this; after all they already have too much of your data–a good chunk of it extremely private–and with every passing day hundreds of websites are linking to Facebook. The answer is quite simple: Facebook’s policy has successfully blocked the company from any development whatsoever, in this direction.

As Edd Dumbill writes on O’Reilly Radar, Facebook “does not want to be the web. It would like to draw web citizens into itself.” This clearly renders it a closed platform where, while people connect and get in touch very eagerly with lost friends (whom they should not have lost in the first place,) it does not exercise control over any other part of the Web. While Facebook can engage your existing social circles, it cannot help publicise your work to the outside world as much as one Google Search entry can.

Facebook has often been criticised, after the coming of Google+, as not reflecting real life friendships and social circles as well as the search engine giant’s networking offspring. But my own advice to you is to stick with Facebook if you have a good following there and use your Google Profile as much as I have mentioned in this article.

Good luck on the new Web!

Why SOPA may be America’s worst mistake

America seems to have come out with a new (although hardly an innovative) way to censor links it feels violates copyrights–although the fact that they do not have to justify themselves makes one wonder if they will not also ban legitimate links that work against them, as many have begun to see. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is more than meets the eye; following in China’s footsteps–but going one step too far–the US government hopes to pass a bill that, will give them absolute rights to decide what one sees and what one does not, on the Internet.

The Web has often been celebrated analogous to freedom in more ways than one: speech, art and in general expression of almost any form. But, leveraging on a few acts of piracy, and apparently using it as a veil, the government hopes to gain the rights to ban stuff on the internet, and–as giants such as Google, Yahoo!, eBay and Netscape see it–effectively the Internet itself. Either way, SOPA is slowly being seen as a technique to undermine the framework of free expression.

Dissecting SOPA

While more and more people around the world are slowly finding out about SOPA–and a number of non-US sites–are writing (read: fighting) against it, there happen to be a much lesser number who know the full implications of this act.

In a nutshell, SOPA is a bill targeted at sites hosted outside the US making them susceptible to be banned, should the US government feel so (which is the catch here, as I see it.) Delving a little deeper into it we find SOPA to list the following clauses ((Paraphrased, read this extract for more details on Section 102)):

  1. Order internet service providers to alter their DNS servers to prevent resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs, and photos.
  2. Order search engines like Google to modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  3. Order payment providers like PayPal to shut down the payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
  4. Order ad services like Google’s AdSense to refuse any ads or payment from foreign sites that host illegally copied content.

The main concepts behind SOPA happen to be piracy and copyright infringement. While these are problems to a good extent, SOPA  is an immature approach to solving them, following on the lines of the repeatedly disproved procedures of strengthening copyright laws to protect piracy. This, as Mike Masnick puts it ((Read Mike Masnick’s article)), will only increase cases of infringement as the main problem centres on consumers being underserved: it has never been a question of being free.

Historically, infringement has never been about “free,” but about indicating where the business models have not kept up with the technology.

Mike Masnick

What is interesting to note, however, is that this will not apply to domains ending with .com, .net or .org because they all are hosted under existing US laws, and SOPA targets non-US (or, more specifically, US-directed) websites.

Continuing onto the next section, Section 103, of SOPA, it requires payment processors and advertisors to shut down accounts should they receive the right kind of letter from a copyright owner — a system modeled on the notice-and-takedown provisions of the current Digital Millenium Copyright Act ((This requires a services, like YouTube, to pull down infringing content after the copyright owner complains.)) which has been both used and abused and is retained simply because it allows YouTube to avoid direct responsibility for the actions of its users —  it would have been otherwise sued out of existence by now.

(While we are on that topic, it is interesting to note that the film production house, Viacom, which is a major supporter of SOPA is suing YouTube for $1 billion and has equated free to stealing stating ‘piracy costs money and jobs.’ Ironically, as RT reports, Viacom’s able CEO made $84 million in 2010 alone.)

The Anti-SOPA Stance

A number of major Internet players have joined in protesting against SOPA. Google–whose ruling over half the web is arguably the most important voice needed to oppose SOPA–has recently come out with a massive public whiplash stating “the bill would give Washington Internet censorship rights similar to China, Malaysia and Iran.” Google is openly opposing the views of a number of big entertainment companies (which constitute the main supporters of SOPA) such as Viacom, Disney and TimeWarner. And, in agreement with others boasting an equally big presence (such as Wikipedia, Yahoo! and Flickr, PayPal and LinkedIn) are urging Congress not to risk the “tremendous benefits the Internet has brought to hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.”

Another idea worth noting is the support Google can give: right now, Google is busy in world domination intelligently buying the most successful participants in every niche of the Internet. Google currently owns services like Android, Picasa, YouTube, Google+, AdSense, AdWords, Maps, Analytics, Docs, Talk, Chrome, Panoramio, FeedBurner, Blogger, Flights, Calendar, Books, Translate, TV, Voice, Local, Goggles, Places and — perhaps their one main product Google is synonymous to — Google Search.

Google vs SOPA?
(Courtesy, FORBES/Paul Tassi)

Another important contributor to this opposition of SOPA happens to be Reddit. The social news site has officially laid plans to black out the active website from 8AM to 8PM, for 12 hours, in opposition to SOPA. On their blog, Reddit made their intention clear:

Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA ((PIPA, is an acronym for the Protect IPA Act, a U.S. Senate version of SOPA.))/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like Reddit. A few months ago, many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there’s a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation.

The new hope that the Reddit team mentions happens to be a major flow of stance-shift among both Republicans and Democratics in the Congress with politicians from Ron Paul to Nancy Pelosi openly offering their support to Anti-SOPA activists.

The Lamar dilema

US Congressman Lamar Smith, who perhaps contributed most to creating this entire hullabaloo called SOPA (and whose intentions, to me, seem shady at best,) seems to have forgotten to cover his tracks after he changed the look on his website where he had been using stock photographs without credit, and therefore, by his own bill, would have ended up in places he probably hoped to avoid.

Uri Gellar, the popular psychic who performed spoon bending and other tricks on TV in the 1970s… had YouTube pull videos of him being humiliated during a 1973 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, when he had no copyright claim to them at all. This is exactly what will happen with Protect IP and SOPA… Give people a club like this and you can kiss the Internet as you know it goodbye… It’s a clear violation of our First Amendment right to free speech… [And] the accused doesn’t even have to be aware that the complaint has been made.

The wonderful sleuthing work was done by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete over at Vice.com when he examined an older, cached version of Lamar’s campaign website and found at least two major cases of copyright violation which, on the one hand Lamar pretends to hate, but on the other, he began using it as his surefire ticket to a seat in the Congress.

Supporting Lamar are a whole bunch of companies who are jumping at the first chance to get SOPA passed. In a letter addressed to the Congress ((You can read the 9-page long, entertaining letter here)), they have pledged their support to the bill. Alongside this, Vice.com has begun its innovative ‘Shop a SOPA’ Copyright Hypocrite Hunt (which you can join) to spot copyright infringements on websites of SOPA co-sponsors (of whom Lamar happens to be the main candidate.) As it turns out, Lamar’s office has conveniently decided not to reply to the letter Vice.com sent them demanding an explanation.

Wikipedia, GoDaddy and others

In a note on Wikipedia, founder Jimmy Wales wrote, “I’m all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I’d like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that’s a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does … is a good idea.”

Another big issue that arose was against Internet Domain Provider, GoDaddy. In fact the place most of the opposition stemmed from was Reddit. A short time ago GoDaddy was a big supporter of SOPA, but soon Reddit was overhauled with Boycott GoDady shouts and in no time the company switched its stance in a blog post and is now a big Anti-SOPA activist.

Individuals are also making great efforts to protest against SOPA. Paul Tassi made a profile picture (below) urging Anti-SOPA people to move a step further by using this image as their profile pictures on social networks; there is also his Facebook event for people posting censored images (such as the one below, sporting a censored under HR 3261, SOPA banner.)

Courtesy Paul Tassi

The Pirate Bay

Now comes the underbelly of SOPA. To most people–at least to us who are familiar with the ways of the Internet and the laws governing its use–it is quite clear who the main target of the SOPA bill is: The Pirate Bay. The website is, to many, the resource of everything they cannot otherwise lay their hands on; everything that should really be in the public domain but is not: from films to software.

As the trust CNet News recently reported, SOPA is all about going after one website, and because the existing OPEN Act does not provide provisions to bring down Pirate Bay.

Yet, SOPA has equivocated, thwarted and confused itself so much that, as Masnick rightly points out, the provisions in the bill do quite the opposite: they make The Pirate Bay immune! SOPA cannot touch The Pirate Bay’s main website, ThePirateBay.org, which is a .org domain hosted under US-laws (i.e. a US website) while the new bill only targets US-directed websites and as we saw earlier this puts The Pirate Bay out of SOPA’s jurisdiction.

This is an important point to note. As I see it, formulating a complex bill, although consisting solely of alphabets, actually requires good logical and mathematical calculations to see no clause renders another null and void. I do not expect any congressman to have this ability.

To take this surprise further, note that the US Congress statistics of rogue websites getting 53 billion websites that the government still childishly dwells upon is actually unaddressed (or rather addressed once and then once again, rendering it void the second time.) At the centre of this entire argument, apart from The Pirate Bay, were file hosting websites RapidShare and MegaUpload. Both of these are also effectively immune to SOPA.

In Conclusion

Am I against SOPA? In a way, yes. The intent of the bill is appreciable, but the lousy way in which it has been formed as it now stands is not. The Internet was the one place on Earth that was never run by a government of people, never constrained by strict laws and never curbing creativity and freedom. In fact, I often quote the Internet as the perfect example of how beautifully people can govern themselves. Do think about this.

However, on the other hand, I could not care less about SOPA because in the pith it is just a bunch of words with no solid execution mechanism. Unlike a common parliament bill, SOPA cannot be enforced on the Internet. We come back to my previous point here, the Internet is run by people around the world, not the US government. In case you failed to understand my point, let me elaborate: As TechDirst points out, even if SOPA is passed, the game becomes the word of the US Congress against everybody with technological knowledge around the world. It is hardly an even match because, at the end of the day, no matter what big blockade SOPA puts up, people can go around that with ease. They can, for instance, adopting a foreign Virtual Private Network system–which, if you are wondering, is absolutely legal!

Google+ vs Facebook: 10 reasons why Google+ is far better

As PCWorld rightly pointed sometime out last year, the comparison of Google+ vs Facebook (which the masses generally draw) is an uneven one. Google+ is a far bigger picture for Google than one might imagine: my own way of putting it, as I have said to many of my acquaintances, is that Google is on its way to becoming a Skynet, although in a good way as things now stand.

+You

This is part 1 of a 4-part article series on Google+. Read the others here:

For Google as a corporation, the Google+ Project is a landmark venture where they aim to bring together all their products, most of them the best in their niche, to make each thrive on the other and deliver an infinitely better user experience, centering on a users–you guessed it–Google+ profile.

Therefore a better way to put the tie would be, Google versus Facebook. Google+ simply isn’t one product anymore. In my opinion, it is quite ready to take on the Google Search robe as the corporation’s face on the Web. And the project has seamlessly integrated all Google products to such an extent, Google+, with respect to a given user, is really all of Google.

So let us see ten unique places I have spotted, over my stay on Google+ (and since I bid goodbye to Facebook quite a while ago,) where Google fares better enough than Facebook to convince anybody to switching to it. Personally, though, I recommend people not to switch: right now, only select people who share posts worth others’ while are populating Google+ ((Statistics show 1. most of these are male 2. most are professionally oriented people 3. the users appear to have unanimously maintained a formal ambience around Google+ 4. there is less than even a fraction of the nonsense, cat jokes floating around on Facebook. If asked to put it bluntly, I think I would say, “Google+ is the Facebook for matured people.”))and we do not want this becoming just another Facebook.

Without further ado, let us go through the ten key aspects I have in mind.

1. Google retains your privacy

I recall somebody once saying Zuckerberg (deserves a bravery award because he) values his privacy more than yours.

Facebook has a habit of compulsorily requiring you to make certain sensitive data of yours publicly visible. Google+ has no such strings attached. In fact, all Google requires you to adhere to strictly is that you do not pose as somebody you are not. Understandably, going against this rule will get you banned from all Google products, but I think it is a good thing considering that it will filter out those characteristic Facebook posters (who were probably once characteristic MySpace posters) who waste your time, right at the start.

In short, though, Google+ is designed to allow you to retain absolute control of your privacy at every point of usage, with both specific settings and general preferences.

2. You can say bye with a snap of your finger

No, really. If you have ever tried deleting your Facebook account, you will know exactly what  mean. It is impossible to fully delete your posts and updates. And pictures. And notes. And sensitive/embarrassing talk if any.

On Google+ you can use their Data Liberation tool to download all your data, pack up and leave Google+ without a public trace. And when I say all, I mean absolutely everything: your videos, Picasa web albums, shares/updates, contacts and anything else you can think of.

If you have not done it already, I strongly urge you to try deleting your Facebook account. Do not worry accidentally deleting it; you cannot delete in even on purpose.

3.  Better group activities

If there is one Google+ feature (apart from photo sharing) that beats every other social network hands down, it has to be Hangouts.

Have you seen what Google did with that poor web camera you get fit into your laptop? I have been invited to roughly thirty hangouts so far (not public hangouts, specific invite-only hangouts) and the interaction is just perfect. I will not be surprised if Facebook comes up with a counterpart, but given the present assets, it would not be hard to guess whose would be better–and who has a head start?

4. Professional setting on Google+

If LinkedIn spelled formal and professional social networking up to this point, I am beginning to feel Google+ will take over now.

Your profile on Google+ is slick, smooth, minimalist and you are in enough control to take out specific things and entirely hide unnecessary stuff. This, coupled with the fact that Google+ has a smaller user base of select individuals, makes way for recognition, good business exposure, personal/freelance popularity and so on.

If you have not begun to do so already, I recommend you harness the true power of Google+ in this regard.

5. Integration within the Web

Some may consider this to be the most important point so far, but I think fifth is where it should stand: but, yes, it is both important and vital.

When I was invited to try Google+ before it was released to the public, I had already begun using Google’s black bar on top without realising others I knew did not really have it on their accounts! The bar was a tad different then, but the concept remained quite the same even after development: to make your network accessible from any Google product at any time.

The way I see it, this would be over half our time on the Web. Consider Google Search, Picasa, Google+, Analytics, GMail, YouTube and any of the several other Google products you can think of. The slim black bar lets you connect to most of these–with specific focus on Google+–from any other product website.

6. Better network management

One thing I used to despise on Facebook was the way people there had (and probably still have) hundreds of so-called friends. If you  cannot recount the name of every single one of them, you might as well not add them. Friend requests and status updates were making and breaking jobs and relations–too much hold for a robotic binary programme, don’t you think?

On Google+ you can neatly organise your network into any number of categories, call it anything you want and share specifically, without wasting the precious time of those who do not give a damn about that particular update of yours.

This also nullifies my previous question, just in case you are still wondering. Google’s Circles is arguably their finest concept, mirroring daily life: how we make different circles of friends, meet and talk and share differently with each of them and so on. And Google+ allows you to bring that priceless habit onto your second life on the Web.

It adheres to the age old formula: replicate real life for the best results!

7. Better (best?) mobile application

Whether it be iPhone or Android or any other second-tier mobile OS, you have a Google+ application that stamps the rest to the ground.

Unfortunately, I got my Google+ Android app only a week before its public release and I did not have enough special time to appreciate its numerous, rich features fully. Over time, however, there are some things you will notice ((I only speak for Android phones, because I have never used Google+ on any other OS and have little intentions of doing so in the future)).

Given that Android is also a Google product, the commenting, updating and other such features subtly integrate themselves into the design of the OS and make accessing Google+ a breeze unlike Facebook’s app, or instance, which requires you to access the homescreen repeatedly, for a lot of reasons.

8. Easy to search within Google+

Google’s third much hyped feature is Sparks. I hardly took notice of it before public release–and I doubt anybody else did–but the true power of Sparks became apparent only much later when a good lot of content had been shared. It was like a small, but equally intense, Google Search stitched into Google+ that allowed you to search your network with great ease.

While it is clear that Google’s previous stand as a search engine played a major role in this, what is more important is that this feature, which seems all so obvious now, had been overlooked in every other social network prior to Google+; and in my opinion, none–even if they do appear at a later point of time–will be in a position to beat Google’s Sparks simply because of Google’s leverage in the searching world online.

9. Better photo sharing and tagging

It is by no means an overstatement to say Google+ is the new photographer’s paradise. There was (still is) 500px, Flickr and so on, but Google’s policy, Picasa integration, tagging technology, viewing–and the elephantine photographer count that exists here–seems to have beat them all in one sweep.

I know many photographers who are leaving other sites slowly but confidently to back-file their entire work to Google+. As for tagging people, when I was on Facebook, many months ago, I kept stressing on a particular clause in their terms of use that said nobody could tag a user without their consent. But (rather intelligently) Facebook made no attempt to stop such tagging and it annoyed me severely. On Google+, however, tagging a person notifies them and the tag appears only if they concur. So that is bidding goodbye to childish tagging in unrelated and/or compromising photographs that Facebook came to be known for even if not quite publicly.

10. Google listens to you

That is right. Google values user feedback more than any other multinational corporation I have come across.

Know that little grey box that says Send Feedback on the bottom right? It is quite generally known that the only people who value feedback enough to actually change their site are those who run personal websites, blogs and such. But Google has taken things in good spirit, and that feedback form is actually more advanced than it seems at first.

You are allowed to highlight parts of the page where you plan to give suggestions, point out to errors etc. as well as black out any personal information you wish to keep hidden. Then you type in your suggestion and send it to Google.

Will anything happen? Trust me, they actually listen to you. As I said before, this might not exactly be what one would expect from a company the size of Google but there have been suggestions I have myself made and a number of them I have seconded or chipped into and these have actually been adopted as changes in Google+

It is fun to see your suggestion has been valued and things have been changed for the better. This also keeps with Google’s open-source spirit and makes the network one that is run by its users rather than an unseen body. Good uses people have been making of the feedback box is requesting for slight alterations to the existing Google+ terms of usage and there have been multiple records where Google has brought out changes.

This flexibility is by far the best reason–from a user satisfaction standpoint–to switch to Google+ and dump Facebook for good.

I am not in any way associated with Google or Facebook, and this review has been from a neutral standpoint. Clearly, I state that the scale tips in favour of Google as my list clarifies!

Before you leave, do not forget to join me on Google+ and circle VHBelvadi.com too!

On why I think it is too early for biometric identification

‘Passwords have become obsolete’ was what IBM Speech CTO, David Nahamoo, said–at least effectively–in IBM’s Research News blog. His main point was that our current use of identification and security, our trusty passwords, were a) really insufficient security b) hard to remember. (Incidentally, I suspect Mr Nahamoo has over 50 log-ins to remember.)

Everything we do online, or via a computer, requires authenticating who we are – user IDs and passwords are our safeguard. But the security isn’t foolproof. Our IDs and passwords can be stolen and our mobile devices can be lost or stolen.”

–David Nahamoo

IBM 5 in 5 Security

Given that all my computers, especially my laptops up to this point, have been IBMs, I am particularly fond of–and familiar with–their multiple attempts at user security/protection. Perhaps the farthest back I can recall is the face recognition on my first IBM laptop. It was fascinating at first but I was forced to remove it when I ended up making faces in public just to turn on my PC.

It is really worse than it sounds. Anyway, then came their fingerprinting technology and that too was a nuisance to me until I changed my laptop all the way to the one I now own–free from any of that biometric hassle. At this point I may have come off as a biometric identification hater of some sort, but really, I am a fan of the entire concept so long as it does not leave those glazed pages of comic books.

Personally, I believe that biometric security is a little adolescent right now; the time when one can use it as efficiently as it is meant to is quite far away.

Devices and security

Another key point Mr Nahamoo raises is the high likelihood of devices like our PDAs, laptops and such–all which store our sensitive data–getting ‘easily lost, stolen or misplaced.’

I concede to this point. But, while these devices themselves may be lost, we already have the option (which, sadly, I do not see too many people using) to handle our data on the cloud. So if this data is accessible from anywhere, through any device, including those we will own at some point in the future, the only setback (and that brings us to square one) is the fact that we need to remember passwords and such to access this data repeatedly. And the stolen devices may be permanently blocked, mind you.

The solution

What solution Mr Nahamoo proposes is the replacement of passwords and other related concepts that require us to–as he puts is–memorise, store and secure account IDs and passwords, with biometric security systems. ((For the benefit of a minority of my readers, biometric systems are seemingly straight out of sci-fi works; they are such systems as gaining access using traits peculiar to an individual, including, but not limited to, their eyes, voice and style of walking. Inasmuch as this usage seems feasible, I see some major problems which are no less a trouble than remembering passwords.))

At the very start is ruled out the possibility of that cliched sequence where a villain terrorises you and forces you to either scan your eye or state a pass code or place your fingerprint or all of those in order to gain access. This is simply because the biometric systems we are talking about are far more advanced than what we think them to be. They can, in short, identify stress, pupil dilation, changed heart rate and breathing patterns to find out if you are accessing the account of your own will.

While all this seems great on the one hand, on the other–ironically–this is exactly where I see a problem. The entire system forces one to behave rather mechanically; to put it shrewdly, you have to make sure you have the same heart beat, constricted pupils and the same breathing rate as you did when you first input these data.

The problems I see

Firstly, this obviously rules out people in an urgency (who constitute about half the metropolitan population nowadays.) In an urgency your breathing rate becomes abnormally fast and increases your chances of getting blocked out of your own account. This, of course, is perhaps only until you calm down again which I do not see happening, given that you were in a hurry in the first place.

Secondly, let us assume you just saw something that melted your heart (I would hate to go into the details of that; it is quite unlike me to do so) then you would naturally find your eyes dilated. ((Once again, for a minority of my readers, let me define this process of eye-dilation. The pupil (right at the centre) of the eyes tend to shrink–this shrinking is called dilation–due to a number of reasons: too much light can cause this dilation as a response on the part of your eyes that reduce the amount of light entering; drug intake can cause quick and lasting dilation (and for those who think only illegal drugs cause it, you have another thing coming: do check your eyes after taking most prescription medicine and you ought to find noticeable dilation!); allergy from some plants causes pupil dilation, although many may argue that the chances are slim; soon after an eye exam, for as long as an hour, (most) eye drops that are administered into your eyes immediately cause a dilation, but once again one may claim the chances are slim; lastly, what I believe to be the most significant contributing cause to pupil dilation: looking at somebody/something you like. In short, you are highly likely to be kicked out of your own account soon after a dinner date.))

Thirdly, if you had a cold–unless they make allowances to an extent, sacrificing security in turn–and your voice changed, your account would never let you in. Clearly, each time you fall ill, the chances are your voice changes in a slightly different manner. Making such an allowance as I just mentioned would make it easy for an imposter to gain access even speaking just close enough to your actual voice.

Now some would argue that although each of these would by themselves fall, together they will create a stronger biometric system.

However, consider this: you have an identical twin (remember fingerprints can be lifted off any object and reused) their breathing and voice would be close enough for them to gain access to your account. Or perhaps a case where you have just missed you bus and have to withdraw some money from an ATM so you run up to it only to find it will not let you in because you are breathing differently. Or even the case where you just spent some time with a loved one (or your opthalmologist/optician who is not also a loved one) and realised your account disowned you because your pupils are a tad too dilated.

In short, while the technology does have the potential to enter mainstream society–and I am confident it will–sometime in the future, now is just too soon. To satisfy our curiosity, we will, for the moment, have to make do with select IBM products; and personally, I would rather remember several passwords (and telephone numbers, while we are on the matter of remembering) than be shunned by a (literally) heartless device because I ran out from an overly bright room.

Biometric systems are just not ready for today. As the game now stands, the good old combination of log books and strong passwords hold a one up over biometric technology.

If, after all this, you still like the idea of biometric security, do not forget to vote for it (read IBM’s report before you do that) on the company’s blog.

I follow IBM’s A Smarter Planet blog. They have some interesting things going on there, so if you want to see tomorrow today, I suggest you head there and find a way to keep up with their fairly rapid updates.

The Nike Air Jordans Ritual

Along the lines of Apple’s customary iPhone frenzy which sees people waiting overnight to buy their latest Apple gadget ((They would have reserved it would they not?)), Nike’s latest shoes in its flagship model, Air Jordans, led people to swarm the markets in a mad rush in the US, fighting over their pair.

Prospective buyers barge into a store selling Nike's signature Air Jordans
Prospective buyers barge into a store selling Nike's signature Air Jordans, Courtesy BayAreaKicks.com

Police Intervention

While they could have stood in a line and they could have done many other things, the amusing thing is how people can fight with all their heart about a pair of shoes. While a pair of shoes is worth all the glamour and awe, I would hardly even consider fighting over buying a pair. But the ruckus went so far that the police had to intervene to stop it.

What struck me as funny was the plight of the cops. They probably had to stand right next to those attractive Air Jordans and not touch them!

In New York two people were taken into custody for fighting over a pair of shoes. A simpler solution? Give each one pair and ask them to cooperatively go look for accompanying shoes. The same happened in Seattle when the cops were called to handle people cutting through lines and indulging in cat fights. Alright, they were merely pushing each other around, so somebody called the cops.

At the Mall

A number of malls ((I forget where, but an exhaustive list was published online and it included the likes of Montgomery Mall, Wheaton Mall, Lake Forest Mall and Potomac Mills Mall.)) were the place of emotional exhibition–literally–when determined customers fought so hard that multiple police teams had to be sent at intervals of roughly three-fourths of an hour! Perhaps it reached its height when 20 cop cars were dispatched to Potomac Mills.

You can also watch a brief, half-minute-long video from News Now USA.

The Nike Air Jordan XI Concorde

That, by the way, is the name of a shoe. It is this jet-craft like name that has got people savagely reaching out to it. Or so one would think. So what is it that is generously granting it such favours?

Nike Air Jordans XI Concorde
Nike Air Jordans XI Concorde, Courtesy NikeKicks.com

For starters, this is  from the same genealogy as the ’95 Jordans ((Named after the basketball legend, Michael Jordan.)). Now improved and released, the shoe supposedly features a Concorde herring bone pad for the outsoles. And if it really is just for the outsoles I would rather call it a useless investment–and yet, perhaps not for Nike.

As a personal fan of Nike over other sports brands, I would enjoy buying a pair of these, but a) it is not yet available where I live; and b) I would rather not do anything to such an extent that the police are sent towards me, on their guard. It is one thing to wait in line for the next Star Trek film (if there is one) but not for nothing.

What all the was fight about

One might think the fight is based on the vast features (if I may call them) of Nike’s latest release; but a closer look ((From the recounting of the event by an Air Jordan buyer)) shows a different reason altogether: merchants online quote a price of $400 for the Air Jordans while the stores sell it at a mere stock price of $180.

Which bring me to my question: are quarrel and police interventions worth it? And that is for a product being sold at ground rates

Would you fight for a pair of sneakers, no matter how dreamily good they are?