It is entertaining — perhaps even pleasing — to watch such tech giants as Apple, Google and Microsoft battle it out year after year. And it is fun to take sides (we always do that). But it is becoming increasingly clear that no matter who wins in the end, and at whatever rate, us consumers will be little more than sore losers.
I must admit, this was neither clear nor obvious to me a couple of years back — and why should it be? I was immersed in the Android ecosystem; and I can say this much for certain: anybody who has not seen outside Android cannot possibly understand the gravity of this situation.
The concept of writing for others and having others write for you are time-tested ones. Around the end of last month, Google’s Matt Cutts spoke about guest blogging and how it might hurt more than it might help if not looked over carefully. My thoughts on this issue are pretty similar, but here are Mr Cutt’s:
A lot of new bloggers end up finding ways to measure themselves and their writing: subscribers, hits, comments, and, perhaps most misleadingly, the number of guest blogging pitches they receive.
Guest blogging has two faces: the submitter’s and the publisher’s. And, while both intend to reach a larger audience (i.e. the other’s audience), they also hope to get noticed by search engines and other such institutions who might end up being a gateway to writing for bigger publishers that actually pay.
But, as Mr Cutts points out, guest blogging can have a more sinister intention in mind: blind SEO. When two or three dofollow links become the reason why the rest oft he article exists, something is definitely wrong.
Every blogger — including myself — has receives at the very least a handful of such requests every few months that state they (the writer/s) have original, unpublished content they would like to offer exclusively to us to publish and yaka yaka yaka. And then they come to the point: could we publish it for them and have at least x number of dofollow links in the body?
Bloggers just starting out are probably the biggest victims to such near-spam and they publish that content quite happily, not realising that they are hurting their own blog’s image in the process.
Today Made’s, Garett Moon, has also written well about how guest blogging has become about the link instead of the ideas. I stopped accepting guest writing except from people I know since mid-2013 and, although my guest articles content has come down, I do not see my visitor count being affected all that much. And since I made this website more personal, I stopped accepting guest blogs altogether unless under special circumstances (often decided on a per-request/submission basis).
With so many people out there fighting to get their content published, it was only a matter of time before some of them found rather lowly means to achieve it. Although Mr Cutts talks of being OK with nofollow links as a sign of a sincere gust writing, I fail to see the harm in demanding dofollow links — especially when you are not being paid to guest blog. So the final decision ought to rest entirely on the quality of writing and the substance.
Further, some bloggers look to mass market guest-authored content they can make an offer to publish; the problem with this — apart from it being rather desperate an attempt — is that it is a clear indication that none of those articles were tailored for your site, so why should you want it at all? Guest blogging should be exclusive in that content ought to be made for your website, not that existing content must be given solely to your website: there is a river of difference between the two.
None of this means guest blogging should be shunned altogether; its intentions are pure and they still exist, but we just have to be a lot more careful about what we publish for our own good.
I cannot complain about today, or yesterday, for that matter, even if I saw a couple of exhibitions of carelessness. On my usual cycling circuit I noticed (apart from other struggling cyclists) this fancy little fire:
The Earth isn’t yours to wreck
What you see here was actually part of a larger fire lit next to an open coconut farm with dried hay and a pub some 200 metres away. Adds up?
And since I had stopped to shoot this, and since I had already breathed in some smoke, I decided to keep doing that while I made this fun shot of a bus passing by (and that photo you see at the beginning of this article too).
Two things struck me: firstly, I was able to accurately capture my artistic intent; and, secondly, phone cameras making terrible night pictures has now risen to plain bad ones. Although that random cheap phone probably still shoots terribly in low light, which is something manufacturers should think about: make better low-priced phones at least this year. A lot of talented photographers out there cannot probably afford iPhones and Note 3s and One Xs.
Materialistically speaking, just a few hours earlier, I had been quite overjoyed when I received a 360MB OTA update on my Note 3. I had no reason to suspect it was anything other than KitKat (Android 4.4.2) arriving:
It took a while, but it soon turned out that I was right.
I think the newest edition just makes me repeat myself: everything is faster, and this time around, I actually mean fast enough for anybody to notice. The camera lag that came like a bane with my Note 3 is almost gone. I’m thoroughly enjoying the dedicated camera lock screen short cut as well.
It has been a day and the phone is still snappy as ever. The next most noticeable feature is that the new font is already here, bundled with 4.4.2 (and thankfully not modded by Samsung).
What you might not notice from the picture above is that there is also the white status bar icon set now by default — something I would force onto my older phones after rooting them.
If you see the screenshot in my Google+ update above, you will notice a flurry of colours with no theme. That was Android with an overlay of TouchWhiz. Else, it was blue; but the white is much better looking now. I only hope app developers will adhere to the new aesthetic and make their apps’ status bar icons white as well (I’m talking about you, TrustGo).
Swiping left brings Google Now, saying OK, Google works like a charm as well. [Update: Several more people than usual expressed a desire to find out about the wallpaper I’m using here. It’s a photograph I made very recently with my phone (so that it would be easy to set it up as a wallpaper and all) which means you can have it if you like. Simply right- or ctrl-click and save image as… .]
Unfortunately, Samsung seems adamant about swapping their bulky icons for KitKat-style slick ones, so that leaves rooting as the only option, which means I’ll be putting it off until we find a way to root without tripping the Knox eFuse. You will never know when you might need it.
But let us look at the brighter parts. Samsung has been nice enough to adopt the beautiful full-screen layout for music album artwork on the lock screen, bringing more of KitKat’s design ideology. (In the picture below, you can also see the camera quick access I spoke of earlier.)
It is interesting that Samsung brought in more of KitKat this time round than it brought in JellyBean in its 4.3 update to my older first generation Note. Perhaps Google and Samsung are growing fond of each other after their recent handshake?
There are other more technical changes, and some user-friendly ones such as an access to default apps management just underneath the regular apps management section of the Note 3’s four-page encyclopedic settings area. Some also complained that third party cases (even with chips inside them) no longer work because Samsung’s own protection enabled metal contacts are missing.
I agree that that was bad marketing on Samsung (or carelessness for not providing support — which is worse?) but I shelled out a little extra to own an original windowed flip case, meaning mine works just fine. But I do hope the others get an update soon.
Oh well, this has been a regular all-encompassing musing from yours truly. Until next time, kEeP L3E7 5PEeK1ng.
(This is a work of satire. Sometimes, satire makes you laugh. Please read it in one sitting for instant therapeutic effects.)
A car is born
Even as congress passed bills to introduce one-way sliding glass halfway through taxicabs in New York to get rid of driver-passenger contact in an effort to decline increasing sexual assault cases on women passengers in taxis, Google decided to splurge its tax money on an alternate solution: getting rid of the driver.
It was most likely how the company’s second most ambitious project came into being. (The first was a backrub.) An alternate story goes thus: a Google employee named Coegi Princeps, in his designated fourteen-hours-a-day leisure time at Mountainview, came up with an idea that he presented to CEO Erikus Schmitdtd. As the story goes, he said the company should improve its car line up with a six-seater sedan. Schmitdtd rightly pointed out to him that Google makes money; GM next door is the one who makes cars.
Princeps then suggested Google should make one as well, just for the fun of it. “A six-seater?” sighed Schmitdtd, as close sources put it. “You’re planning to go with a single, long seat up front to seat two men next to the driver instead of one?”
“No,” said Princeps, who believed he had a much simpler idea, “we get rid of the driver.”
Google hates drivers; both the ones inside computer memories (hence its laptop lookalike, the Chromebook, also a symbol of the company’s obsession with all things chrome) and outside. It is quite surprising, therefore, that the logos of neither the Chrome browser nor the Chromebook are chrome-coloured.
The self-driving car crashed into Google’s own Mountainview campus on its first trial run because the left bumper recognised the right bumper as an obstacle and tried to get away from it. Image courtesy: Wikimedia commons
That afternoon, it was decided that Google would build a car that would drive itself. It’s design was partly inspired by the self galloping horse-cart built three centuries ago by Arisptolemy. Schmitdtd and his entourage called Princeps home later that day to hear out his simple idea.
“It’s simple.” Princeps said for the third time. “We use laser radar systems mounted on a rangefinder to map the car’s surroundings, beam it up to our servers, create a three-dimensional map, beam it back, then beam it up again to verify using our Google Authenticator Android app, then beam it back to the car’s Velodyne, compare it to existing Google maps and create models representing all three-hundred-and-sixty degrees and feed that into the AI, tricking it into thinking it’s in a computer simulated environment, condition it to prevent collisions with obstacles in the simulated world and drive like the XBox 360.”
“Brilliant!” Schmitdtd cried (they say).
“But what about server costs?” Somebody asked. “Will our servers take it?”
“I have that prepared.” Princeps said, taking out a folder. “Amazon has cut their server prices by half for Christmas.”
TV gone wrong
Some say the Google Glass started as the Google TV project, but since Apple owned copyrights to all television displays sized 2″ and above in rectangular format of standard, high, retina, 2K and 4K definition formats with HDMI in and out ports, TV/AV cables, thunderbolt, USB 3.0, standard 3.5mm and extended jack, built-in extension cords and wall mounts, Google was forced to create a TV a mere half-inch in diagonals and mount it on spectacle frames so people do not sit on it or lose it within their trouser pockets. They were so engrossed with the TV that they marketed the first edition of their Glass without any glass: a grave mistake corrected in forthcoming editions of the product.
Google’s version of the story is less complex: ‘We wanted to be everywhere.’ The company stated in a press release. ‘But, since we could not embed our product into your brain, where’s the next best place to put it?’
Google’s early efforts with Glass included trying out a Ray-Ban polarising aviator lens. But the lens polarised the Glass display making the tiny TV invisible, thereby hindering Google’s progress greatly.
Glass’ second attempt at total customisation was the introduction of a touchpad on the side of the frame, just above the ear. Since many people are uncomfortable with the three-inch touchpads on their laptops, Google was smart enough to figure the quarter-inch touchpad it provided would prove to be inadequate and therefore included an external mouse option. You could now carry a mouse you never wanted to control a computer you never wanted, a mere inch from your eyes.
The second, latest, iteration of Glass runs on Android 4.0.4 and higher and received rave reviews such as, “The navigation bar is so cool it only covers half my vision!” and “When I blink against the sun, the status shade pulls down and covers my eyes!” and “The device fits seamlessly, I soon forgot it was even on my head.” Which, interestingly, is what old people who’ve lost their glasses say as well.
On the field
The first incident involving the driverless car happened on a date whose specifics are now lost. In fact, you’ll find the specifics of this accident cannot be Googled either. On Sunnyvale Blvd., CA, about 3.7 miles northwest of Google’s Mountainview headquarters, when the self-driving car team had taken a few minutes off to view Mountains (a hobby called piedmontology, also not Googleable), a drunk driver rear-ended the Google Car.
The LA Post then reported that the drunken man, a Chinese, Whu Ray Lee Drives, had this to say: “Like, I press the accelerator when the signal turns red, just like you’re supposed to, and this dang thing doesn’t budge. So before I know, I’ve, like, traveled 300 metres and dug into this Prius. Then I get up, like, to talk to the driver and give him a piece o’ my mind, and, like, it’s like the headless horseman all over again. There was no driver. I musta been drunk, or I’d never have imagined it, so I took out my car and tried to run away before I realised it was a cop car and…”
The same day, Cat Silvia Selfieton decided to make history by taking the world’s first Google Glass selfie without a mirror by forcing the lens to twist inward. The result, she said, was stunning:
Image courtesy: Flickr/3X0=3 with no disrespect to the photographer
By November, Google had started looking to produce the driverless car commercially. Needless to say, drivers did not take this well (both the ones inside computers and out). A law was never passed because congress said it had no laws targetted at driverless cars; specifically, congressman D.A.M. Düd Evenstein was quoted as saying, “We need a scapegoat. Every time a car is in an accident, we need to blame somebody. In a driverless car, only the car is to blame. We can put cars behind bars, but cars take too much more space than men, so we cannot put as many cars behind bars at once as we can men, hence self-driving cars cannot be allowed.”
But Glass was a much easier product to market. Since the government could not come up with a suitable alternative for “do not drink and drive”, such as “do not glass and jive”, no objections were placed with regard to its use. Therefore, now, for instance, looking through Glass and texting, voyeuristically photographing, consistent blinking for no good reason and rubbing the sides of your spectacles are all perfectly sane and legal actions to perform in public.
The real fun comes when a person wears Glass and lets his self-driving car take him around, as Jim Weinerbottom did just last week. As the first person to splurge US$100,000 on a car that came without a chauffeur and spectacles that came without glass, Jim enjoys his daily trips to the office where he neither drives to nor looks around at.
“It’s like the perfect day.” Says Jim. “I get up, put on my Glass, I rub my eyes, freshen up and delete the photographs it took when I rubbed my eyes and freshened up, then have breakfast with the recipe Glass gives me, eat as fast as the Glass clock tells me, walk to the car, sit inside, wait as it drives me to my office at Mountainview where our self coding robot (our next project) does my job while I go watch’mountains behind the Mountainview campus, walk to the automatic coffee dispenser, have a cup of coffee, then toss my can to the auto disposal bin, then use the escalators and conveyor belts to zoom around campus, have my self-driving car drop me back home, then go to pick up the groceries Glass tells me, then use Glass to check recipes, cook, eat, delete photographs I accidentally took by blinking while cooking and eating, and sleep when Glass tells me it’s time and my car has driven itself into the garage.
“I’m living the dream!” Jim says. “It’s so great that I’m no longer needed any more. In fact, I sometimes feel like the obstacle myself. I can now sell my limbs and brain on ebay to buy the next versions of Glass and Car for a more fulfilling Jetsons life.
Glass releases to the world in 2014, while the car is still driving around to senators’ offices with nobody inside to get out and negotiate on its behalf.
This is a work of satire. Like all works of satire, it should be taken seriously for its humour; but an underlying concern about the performance of these products does exist, although not in this author’s mind. Indeed, this author loves Google. He uses nearly every product Google has created (and buried) except AdWords. Because he was banned from AdWords and nobody knows why. Not even Google.
Google is great in many ways and falls back in others: consider, for instance, the back button on devices running Jelly Bean 4.1-2 that seems to have a brain of its own. (I am not the only one with that complaint.) And now its newest product, the note-taking app, Google Keep, is out. Is it any good, though?
The search engine and mobile OS giant — which had the capacity to greedily take over more than 75% of the market — realised it was high time it brought in a note-taking app for all its users. And about five years later, it did; but, not only did it come late to the party, it also came wearing the wrong costume.
Having said all that, I am inclined to believe, as you will soon see, that somewhere under that unremarkable product that is Google Keep is an actual target audience Google may be trying to woo.
What’s new in Google Keep?
The Keep widget: slick but nothing new
If I had to say one thing to any developer out there, it is this: if you have an idea that makes things beautiful but offers nothing new, wrap it in plastic and throw it out the window. Unfortunately it looks like nobody told Google that.
In short, there is nothing new in Google Keep.
Here are some of its most brilliant features: a widget, colour-coding, great looks, auto-syncing, auto-saving, checklist-style notes, and simple, quick steps to use.
Frankly, it is just that last bit you really need to keep an eye out on. Google probably had nothing radical in mind when they designed Keep except perhaps getting people to use more of their products. Another way to look at it would be that Google just wanted to get such an app out and up to present standards before it began innovating. Only time will tell which it is.
Google Keep against other note-taking apps
It is no doubt that Google, with its name and budgets, already has something of a headstart against its competitors. It can, for instance, bundle Keep with newer Android phones and gain an immense lot of users that way. The catch then is to keep those users without giving them a reason to look for alternatives. In its present form, Keep cannot hope to do that.
Keep v Evernote: right now, Evernote wins hands down
Keep’s biggest competitor is the veteran note-taking service, Evernote. And Stepan Pachikov’s brainchild can take on Keep in every angle and win: it has better organisation, greater variety of notes, more powerful auto-save, more effective synchronisation across devices, a widget to match Keep’s, and — especially with newer updates — no longer lacks in the eye candy department. (Here is a quick trivia: I recently found out Evernote and I share a common birth date!)
What about other candidates, such as Catch, OneNote or Springpad? It suffices to say they all offer what Keep does and more. Catch has one of the most familiar tagging techniques (in hash-tagging,) OneNote has a huge text formatting palette carried over from Microsoft’s Word, and Springpad is in a slightly different level, focusing on visual satisfaction of its users while also offering at least everything that Keep does.
Where Keep falls short
Keep is, first of all, still not available on all platforms except the cloud and Android. Google’s second slip comes in its merging Keep with Drive. It would be wise to keep (no pun intended) a product like Keep as a standalone offering rather than merge it with a successful product such as Drive, to piggyback on.
Eight colours do not spell organisation
With my first few usages, Keep on my phone simply refused to sync with my laptop at the same speed that Evernote would. In fact, the first two times, it did not sync at all.
Keep also (as of the time of writing this article) does not allow what we call audio notes. In other words, inputting a note via the microphone on Keep makes the app treat it as a dictation and converts it into a text note rather than save it as an mp3/wav/mpga audio note like almost all other apps do.
Moving on to photographs, a Keep photo note is restricted to a photograph you would capture from the app and not one you have already captured. That is to say, Keep does not let you import photos from your gallery to attach to notes.
There are also checklists on Keep that are mostly on par with checklist-type notes on other apps. But the colour-coding method of organisation that Keep plays as its main attraction is not all that unique — or useful, for that matter.
Keep only allows about eight colours and in just one layer. In other words, unlike the powerful organisational structure Evernote gives you — stacks for your collections of notebooks, which are in turn for your collections of notes, under which may be collections of tags — or like Catch lets you utilist two layers, notes and notebooks, Keep simply says something to the effect of, “colour all reminders red, colour all shopping lists blue, colour all miscellaneous notes green and so on.” That is, as you can see, not very helpful.
So who is Keep for?
Now we come to an important point. If Google finally released Keep for the public, they must consider it finished up to some standards; which would mean they actually have a target audience in mind. And I can tell you right away it is not researchers. It is more likely your average housewife trying to save paper.
Making checklists is easy on Google Keep
Keep, to put it simply, is for anybody who had been looking for a note-taking app exactly as simple as picking up a pen and sticking a post-it note on their refrigerator. Keep lets you pick up your phone, click exactly one button, write your note and stick it on all your devices at once. There is no categorising, no tagging, no other form of organisation except deciding what colour post-it flag you fancy.
If you are the kind of person looking for something simpler than even Catch, or a no-nonsense note-taking app to help you once an for all get rid of your pocket notebook while being as simple to use as that, then Keep is your perfect answer. Without kidding, Keep is as simple to use as a pocket notebook and a pen, if that is what you always wanted.
If you want anything even infinitesimally more powerful, Google Keep is galaxies away and, hopefully, was not who Google meant their new note-taking product for. Over the years, Google has started and too soon dissolved some of its new products like they were salt in water — and that too after pulling hundreds of thousands of people on board. Let us hope that is not the fate in store for Keep. But in any case, however big a fan of Google I may be, you will not see me using Keep for my notes any time soon. [vhb]
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Cover Image: Keep on the 5.3″ GALAXY Note with errors. Keep does not spell-check.
The last time we saw, Google was busy playing totally witty pranks at Matthew Inman, but these little surprises — called easter eggs — that Google has hidden for the rest of us are from a while before that. Nonetheless, they are still great places to visit when you are on the internet and have nothing to do, but do not want to leave your computer alone. Get my point?
1. The Easter Eggs Game
Oh, yes, Google has an official game in this regard too. Think the eggs-in-the-basket game we used to play ages ago, only, this time it is reversed. You do not throw eggs into a basket, you catch eggs in one. The aim of the game is to catch eggs that spell g-o-o-g-l-e.
Remember the non-existent, yet fascinating lake monster the Scots speak of? Google has made a pet out of it. And not just that, you can find UFOs hovering around cities and an aurora light up the night sky.
Just change your iGoogle theme and make sure you wake yourself up at 3:14AM (yes, that’s just after midnight) and you can witness one of these different, weird things happening on each theme.
3. Google Paper
Google has an infamous but revolutionary service called Google Paper from where you can print, on paper, the hard copy, of your entire GMail inbox — and it is done using special, if uncomfortable, methods to save the environment.
Try out Google Paper
The best part of Google Paper is that it is free, safe, and does not contain ads. If you have photo attached to your GMail inbox, you can get those printed in High-Res, glossy photo paper; and you can choose to print just one or even all million of the messages in your inbox. Why wait then? Visit Google Paper and experience the awesomeness now!
(Trust me, you will laugh after taking a look at this one!)
4. Google Klingon
If you are a (Star) Trekker like me, you will love Klingon — and probably already know a little of it! Well the good news is that Google’s Mountain View campus is probably filled with nerds like us, and that is why Google has a Klingon search engine, called Google Klingon, that allows you to search in Klingon.
Picasa reached version 3.9 recently, with vast technological upgrades, but there is one little secret Google has not left out of their project yet. If you’d like to see a host of pink bow-tie attired brown teddy bears, hit Ctrl+Shift+Y.
And keep hitting it. Go on. You know you want to.
So that’s our second list of five awesome things you never knew you could do on Google products. If you have not done it already, make sure you read the first list here. And, as Google throws out more such humorous gags hither and thither, I’ll keep updating it right here.
ONE OF THE most common fun things you find people doing on Google is the barrel roll. But let us forget the common stuff for a moment and see what other such cool (but really, the word is nerdy — and I confess it definitely applies to me!) stuff you can do on that seeming innocent Google homepage. Well, nerd or no nerd, I am certain these five things are stuff you will really want to try out as you read along.
Remember, in all these cases — weird as it may look — you can still continue to use the Search page just like normal. Simply try to pretend like nothing has happened.
Update: Sunday, July 1, 2012. It appears that Google has brought back the I feel lucky option even with instant search running. All you have to do is hover over any predicted search result that drops down as you type and you’ll find the link on your right.
5. Google gone askew!
Google simple words and you will find the complete definition with the search engine nowadays also acting like an online dictionary. But search the word askew and you will find a little surprise.
Hitting enter will give you an entire search results page that is askew. Talk about learning with examples.
Did you know Google was once running a project where all you had to do was look at a revolving circle and picture the thing you are looking for. Voila, there you would have it all: perfectly served results and images too!
Try it out. Visit the Mentalplex page, but do not hate me for sending you there.
Alright, this one may not be that much of a trick. It once was, but it became so popular that Google incorporated it as a feature into its product. And it is one of my favourite reasons to visit Google Earth!
If you are a fan of Microsoft’s (only) awesome game series, Flight Simulator, you will be familiar with the transparent, overlaid plane HUD. There is a turn arc to control the rudder and flippers; and an altitude graph to control the elevator so basically if you know how to fly a plane and if you understand how the three plane axes work, this one will instantly appeal to you.
Go to Tools > Enter Flight Simulator and there you are, seated in a cockpit, flying your way around the world. It is coolest in places where full-blown 3D imagery is accessible (i.e. not the middle of the Sahara or Thar, where you will just fly over fake sand. You might even go to sleep.)
You also have many views: from inside the cockpit — my favourite — or from the wing, or even from a 3rd person point of view. And you have a host of places you can land on, including 2D cities to naval ships in the middle of the sea!
Alright, fellow nerds, this one is perhaps the best and reserved for the last.
On May the 21st 2010, to mark Pacman’s 30th birthday, Google launched one of their greatestdoodles ever: Pacman around the Google logo. The doodle was Google’s first of its kind, interactive, and stayed on the homepage for 48 hours and got 505 million unique visitors (and is still getting many; I’m a regular visitor anyway!)
The downside (some call it that) was how the doodle affected the economy. Had the hours people played that game been converted into productive work, we would have earned almost exactly $120,483,800 more! And in the 48 hours that it was shown alone a given user was reported to have spent about half a minute more than the usual four-minute period of time they would otherwise spend on Google. And this money translated to buying the entire Google staff 19,835 strong, including “Larry and Sergei, right down to the jaintors,” as Tom Wright put it, “and get six weeks of their time.”
Gruesome, disappointing numbers apart, know that you can still play Pacman on google; just follow the button below, insert a coin and have a great time! Also, as a side note, if you have two players, just insert a coin twice and play with a. the arrow keys and b. the w-a-s-d key combination simultaneously.
Now that Google has taken away the I’m feeling lucky button from its homepage, there are a couple of such fun things you can no longer do via Google; but the good news is, some other thoughtful blokes have retained those particular versions of Google so you can still access those pages.
Try your luck disintegrating Google completely (a project called Google Gravity) and play around with broken parts here or surprise yourself by simply searching for the word Recursion.
Ever since Pintrest sent me an invite to their social bookmarking website, I have not pinned anything. You can visit my board and follow me although I doubt you will find me sharing anything for a while. Pintrest’s copyright terms are shaky at best; the social media site (whose growth rate is much higher than Facebooks growth rate when Facebook was its age) is not only unclear about its copyright terms, but also appears to be on the wrong side of the legal court right now.
So what is their solution? Pintrest raised $100 million last month and has now stolen one of Google’s top legal advisors. Frankly, I have no idea if the two are connected, but I can tell you this: Google’s Superman, Michael Yang, now works for Pintrest.
What does Pintrest expect from Mr Yang?
That is right, this is in fact a major question that has been bothering me since the transfer. If you know Google well enough, nobody need tell you who Michael Yang is. In short, if it weren’t for Yang, Google would be in a soup in a huge number of cases by now (notably since 2010,) especially in their ridiculous Chrome case — the one where Google’s terms declared anything you typed into Chrome is theirs by copyright, remember?
For the record, I am actually typing this in Chrome and that is because this copyright issue has long been tackled. And who else tackled it but Michael Yang?
He was head of a 200-strong team of lawyers and Google called him their deputy general counsel. We will simply call him their legal superman.
Kryptonite, Superman’s weakness. Is copyright Pintrest’s?
So that is agreed upon, Yang is Superman; but what can even Michael Yang do when a company has indeed infringed copyrights?
With Google it was mostly a matter of convincing the masses, the congressmen, several lawyers and making sure they knew Google was on the right side of the copyright and privacy laws. But with Pintrest, there is a whole pinboard of copyright-infringed material right before your screen and it would hardly help to say you did not mean to infringe anybody’s copyright?
You put up a picture, somebody pins it. Does that mean they stole the picture and copyright from you? Or does that mean they borrowed it? If it is the latter, did they ask your permission to borrow/pin it before they actually did so? If not, does that not amount to stealing it? And if you are convinced it will give you traffic, (which your email, Google+ or Facebook can also do, for that matter,) does it mean (now that the content is on Pintrest) that Pintrest owns your content? The catch is, Pintrest does not make that clear.
And that in turn means I can sue, you can sue, Fortune 500 companies can sue. And Michael Yang will address us all.
But take one step further and you will find scarier things. Pintrest, in a way, actually does talk about copyrights. It states that you are responsible for what you pin, and that you need to have the owners explicit permission before doing so. In other words, blindly clicking the pin button is not the end of it; it is the beginning of severe legalities.
What does the future hold for Pintrest?
Clearly, Pintrest saw big troubles coming up ahead and quickly hired Mr Yang to help them out. They found out that a majority of what their users pinned was copyright content, pinned without permission from their owners. And, on the other hand, Mark Zuckerberg (who thinks he can defeat competition by buying them for millions) might want to re-think buying The Fancy, a Pintrest competitior because there does not seem to be another Michael Yang for him to hire out there.
Well, perhaps not everybody can hide behind the small print. As for what will really happen to Pintrest, only time will tell. My question is, given all this, was Michael Yang a worthy investment for Pintrest? I definitely do not doubt Mr Yang’s exceptional legal capabilities, but when the company you are working for (and its users) are openly at fault, where is the question of defending them to whatever small length? Pintrest would do better to carefully and correctly re-write their terms of usage and not equivocate when it comes to copyright issues.
What do you think? What can Yang do for Pintrest? Is Pintrest safe at all? And should Google have held on to Yang in the first place?
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. This writing is not targeted against Everyme or the team behind the app. Should any part of the article appear unnecessarily negative, it must be understood that that was entirely unintentional and it should be considered in an optimistic light instead.
This year, a popular social network that invaded the Play Store after Instagram was an app little heard of in the Android world, Everyme. I went in with an open mind when I decided to try it out because the last time I had done it (with Instagram and before that with Google+) I had enjoyed them to the core; and I still use them to this day. So here are my views on Everyme, what it is and why I think it serves little purpose.
The Private social network
The first feeling you get when you walk into Everyme is like walking straight into the lovely Path but how it would look if the guys at Google were running it. I suspect many others may have felt the same because this was definitely the strongest feeling I had at that time, and I still have it, believe me. At the end of the day, Everyme looks like an unnecessary conglomeration of Path and Google+ that really does nothing special except, perhaps, look good. I believe in giving credit where credit is due and Everyme deserves it in terms of design (although that too looks like it has been spun off Path.)
Now, Everyme calls itself the private social network. A year ago that would have been a terribly important tagline to boast of what with Facebook being the lord of social networking and there being concerns galore about user privacy. But with the coming of Google+, all that ended.
Google answered all privacy questions, shaped it the way its users wanted to and gained a deserving one up over Facebook that it still holds to this day.
Now keep that on one side and let us talk about Path. It is radically different: for starters, it is mobile-only. It segregates updates into music, image etc. and lets you tag who you are/did it with. That is all considerably original. But what was, in my opinion, the boldest move Path made, was limiting your connections (or friends, if you will) to 150. That struck at the very heart of Facebook, as though Path and Google+ were teaming up (and probably led Zuckerberg to believe Facebook will dies as just another app on a mobile phone…) because in Facebook, 300 friends is worse than 500, which is worse than 700 and so on, regardless of whether they were really friends or acquaintances.
My point is,what Everyme does is create a privacy protected social network where, in their own words, you share stuff with your closest friends, not 516 random acquaintances.
Circles are no longer an original concept
So that was two major players of Everyme we just tumbled — privacy and limited friends to share with. Another aspect of the social network its creators often highlight is the concept of circles. Needless to say, circles — right from the name — has been etched off Google+’s hometown. That is not good in any way, is it? Besides, try sharing something with more than one circle (a common practice on Google+) and you will find it is impossible to do.
So, with all their major stakes toppled off their feet, what bothers me is simple this: what does Everyme do that Path and Google+ do not already?
It turns out there is yet another aspect Everyme highlights to their circles. Given a group of people/friends, it is sufficient if just one of them has an Android smartphone (or iOS) and they can interact and share things with everybody else through Everyme, with the others doing their bit through their emails instead of downloading the app themselves.
More Google+ territory here. If you use Google+ often, you will know there is an option to notify a fellow who is not on Google+, via his email address. And, yes, you can also add them to your circles just like on Everyme — or should I say it the other way round?
So what is the magic?
Having said all this, there still is one new concept a little new to Everyme: and they consider it to be a bit of magic!
Everyme has a powerful server that can bring together your personal data and activities from other social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Google+to create circles you prefer automatically. While it looks like mind reading, what it really does is find out people you have connected with and at what relationship status and then group them together; then it finds out who you are in a relationship with (from Facebook) and automatically tags them on Everyme too (instead of having you do it manually.)
While this is all very time saving, it really is not too magical, if you ask me.
Next come the magic stories card that Everyme loves to play at the end with a flourish. If you have a much liked or commented on update on Facebook or a heavily re-tweeted tweet on Twitter, Everyme saves your time by posting that as an update on Everyme, on your behalf. And that includes your boss’ mishap in the rest room or your topple down the stairs which all become automatic Everyme updates. Think about it. Carefully.
I think Everyme’s only safe bet is with the concept that not everybody need have an app, but that begs the question as to why that one participant needs Everyme. Can he not use his email too and create an all-email conversation instead? In the pith, with Everyme, you have Google+, Facebook, Path and to some extent, Twitter, all rolled into one in a formula that just does not seem to work; at least not yet.
If the Everyme team does come up with something truly unique, something that had not even remotely been attempted by anybody else, I will definitely hop onboard. The team definitely has great potential, so does the app; and I will be the first to write a new article commending them when they show it. Until then, however, I am going to have to uninstall Everyme; but you can download it from the Play Store or App Store below, if you have not already done so.
And do share with us what you though about this app when you downloaded it!
ON APRIL THE 24th this year, Google rolled out the Penguin update: a major change in the algorithm whose effect surpassed websites and spilled onto society.
One of the departments in the search engine giant’s headquarters was called the ‘Search Quality Team.’ They were a small group of people (or should I say army?) whose job was to manually scout the internet for malpractices in linking. This was done mainly because one of the prerequisites of high ranking on Google happens to be good linking.
The Penguin automation
I am a big fan of books, and I believe nothing will ever replace them; but I still concede that the Internet has the upped hand now simply because in books, the reader is limited to the knowledge already contained in the book and you have to look for another book for any clarifications or the like. In case of the internet, the knowledge is practically unlimited and this is because all that is required to expand the reader’s outlook is a link. Need clarifications? Click on a link, then another, and another. In the end, it is both limitless and easy.
Google uses this feature of the Internet to determine which website would benefit its readers better: an unlinked website, like a book; or a linked one which makes use of the Internet fully? Also, like recommendations, more sites linking to yours will up your Google rankings because — in Google’s eyes — that is like being recommended by those websites. And if those websites are big league players, like newspapers or magazines webpages, all the better it is.
But this led to many lower order websites, upstarts, robots, bulk content producers and so on, to gain new links by the minute and gather hundreds of thousands of links, webbing their own site so a bot would follow the threads and stay on the website for a terribly long time and hence increase the website rank in a search result. This not only meant that wrong sites got better rankings, but also that real, fresh content producers (like myself and you other great bloggers out there) got pushed down the ranks unfairly.
Until recently, the Search team was in full charge of tracking down and (almost) barring those sites, or at least manually pushing them down search ranks by flagging them. But now, Google has come up with a Penguin to do the job!
The flaw of over-optimising
One might wonder what happened to the men on that ‘Search Quality Team’ who got replaced by robots; I have been trying to find this out since a month now and I still have no idea. But I am sure new places have been put up for them, so let us come back to our black-and-white bird.
There are two ways to tackle this problem: forget Google. That sounds like a nice exit, but considering Google has a little short of 70% search traffic share on the Internet and the likes of Bing, the other 30%, it is needless to say you will lose nearly 70% of your possible visitors. Let us settle at about 50%, to go easy on ourselves.
The other way is to stop being a robot and start becoming human. This is tougher, but remember, Google is all about a) helping searchers get original, quality content and b) helping quality content creators get the exposure they deserve. In simple terms, if Google knows you are human and are writing with your brain, it will feature you on page one (trust me, nobody even goes to page 2 or beyond these days.)
Let us assume there is a big time bulk article marketer, Mr X. X awakes one fine morning with a fresh idea brewing in his intelligent, but cunning, head. He decides to write a script that first tracks down a specific keyword all over an article and does this for all his articles; next it tracks down all websites that use the same keyword heavily; lastly it randomly links all keywords from X’s article to one other website it has tracked down in step two of the script. So there he has it, a hugely linked article, linking to numerous different websites. Is that not what search engines look for?
Not Google, as it turns out. At least not anymore. Google’s latest superhero (read super-cute animal) tracks down Mr X and flags his website which is then dipped down search results like a cast-iron anchor in the Pacific. Now this practice of heavily linking one, single, term is just one of many signs of robot content. No true content creator would do that ever. That would, in case of this very article, say, be like linking every instance of the word panda to a photograph of a panda on some remote corner of the Internet.
Five terms you should know
Popular malpractices in the blogosphere, and the general content creation world on the Internet, are five in number, and it usually helps to know a little bit about them. So in this section we will talk about those important things for when you come across them sometime in the future.
All that we read about Mr X above, his practice of using keywords extensively and linking to it (whether robotically or otherwise) is given the special term, [highlighted]keyword stuffing[/highlighted].
Now let us suppose you open a dashing new website and write an article on some subject and title it so and so. Some time later you create another article, title it that and that and then copy half of article one to two. Now you have two articles in half the time. Some time later you create a page where you want to explain something and then say the same thing that is on articles one and two, but condense it. Then you create an about page and write a whole lot of things about you and then mentions things from — you guessed it — articles one, two etc. This is usually done to give bots an idea that your website deals with that content a lot, like a major website dedicated to that, and that yours should be Google’s first choice when somebody is looking for that very topic. But remember, your content is neither diverse, nor deep. It is the same thing over and over again, perhaps a little differently each time. This is termed [highlighted]duplicate content[/highlighted].
But duplicating content can also be done unknowingly, so one must beware of it. For instance, linking to www.vhbelvadi.com and vhbelvadi.com and vhbelvadi.com/ are actually three different things entirely! And, unfortunately, this too is considered as downright duplication of content. So, yes, running is website is a lot harder than it seems at first, especially when you look deep inside the things that really matter!
WPMU's fall and rise as they first combated with Google's new Panda
If you have ever been duped enough to visit one of those win-$10,000-in-a-day style ads that are all over the Internet (or if you visited one out of sheer mockery, like me) then you will know it almost always leads to a long page that tells you why you should opt for it, and that it is real. You click on a different looking ad and it leads to a different page which tells you pretty much the same thing. And again. And again. And again. If you lined up all these pages and did go through the offer, you will find you end up at the same page every single time. In other words, several pages had been created, targeting different people at different times, like seemingly different websites, but all with the same rotten (or not so rotten) interest in mind. This practice is known as creating [highlighted]doorway pages[/highlighted] and Google aims to practically end them on search results.
Lastly, suppose X creates lots of content in scripts no search engine can read, then he serves completely different texts when detailing content in case of unsupported browsers (which also applies to search bots) it is known as [highlighted]cloaking[/highlighted] and can get you a permanent removal from the Google index.
So now we know what the Penguin was up to. I waited nearly a month on purpose, before I wrote this article, because I wanted to study what effect it had on VHBelvadi.com, and, not quite unlike what I expected, it had no effect whatsoever. I take special care that none of those nasty malpractices creep into this site even by mistake and Google has rewarded me accordingly!
But, as Google webspam team head, Matt Cutts said, it would affect less than about 3% or so of the websites out there (who are all basically spammy, so why worry?)
What do you think about this Penguin? Is it as fun-going as it looks, or is it a case of ‘you have nothing to fear if you haven’t done anything wrong?’ Share it with us!
In short, the main point put forth by the changed policy is that Google — which used to keep its user history from Google Search and YouTube separate — can now combine collected user data in order to deliver better results and show advertisements that have a greater probability of attracting your click on them and hence make the Search Giant some good money. And, while this is not as bad as it seems, (it is definitely better than Google’s re-branding the Android Market to Google Play,) the decision to start using its services, or continue to do so, is left entirely to you.
Having recently deleted my Facebook account, I hardly took time to realise how most of my networking would now take place on Google+ — which is how I preferred it in the first place. And the main reason I chose to switch, is exactly for reasons I have explained before in my four-part series of articles on Google+.
[T]oday, though, as I was scrolling through my Google+ stream, a thread I had conversed in, with Olav Folland ((Take a look at his I am project. It’s a masterpiece in conceptual photography!)), Mark Rodriguez and few other great guys, came to mind. In the pith, it turned out to focus on how certain etiquettes cannot be forced; so I decided to round-up a few that I could think of, similar to my older article on 16 ethics on Twitter. Right now, the list is short, but I expect it to grow with time (and the Google+ user base.) If you have your own etiquettes, feel free to suggest them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!
1. The +1 button is no less than a comment
I have noticed how an increasing number of people have been commenting things like Cool! or Awesome or LOL or Funny and so on. While this is all very generous, my suggestion is not to comment unless you are really adding something to the conversation, have so much to praise that you have to spill out words effectively by commenting or you are the OP. In all other cases, cool, awesome, LOL, funny are effectively equal to a simple +1.
The +1 button saves time, both the OP’s and the commentor’s and is generally received with no less enthusiasm than a comment. So if you can gesture a neat +1, don’t bother commenting; it works both ways!
2. Use the notification button sparingly
Google+ brings forth a new concept in the form of its notify option where you can ring a bell on somebody’s profile to let them know about the post you just made.
But everybody knows bells are noisy, so use them sparingly. People with a large following are the most likely prey to this unchecked notification spree many people go on. As Tracy Crawford pointed out, if even a hundredth of her followers notified her once a month, “it would be far too many!” ((She has about 14,900 followers as of the time of this posting, so that would mean 149 notifications every month; almost 5 a day.))
Notification has its uses in times such as conversing in groups when notifying participants will prevent them from having the thread drowned in their stream by bringing their attention to it. But overuse of this for lame reasons such as just trying it out or to garner attention to one’s self is almost unforgivable–not to mention annoying if overdone. This isn’t Facebook, you have an open option not to force everything on everybody, so make the most of it; yet, minimise notifications even to concerned circles unless you can thoroughly justify what you did.
So the next time you think of notifying somebody, think again is it’s really (really) necessary. If it is, go ahead,; and if it is not, have pity on the other party.
3. To (re)share or credit?
It’s one thing to share somebody’s post; it is an entirely different thing to give credit to them. Well, they put it up, you better give them credit!
Of course, the original poster is notified of the share when you share it, but there are some things to keep in mind. Especially when you and the OP have followers in common, sharing soon after the OP shared it is pointless. It just appears in everybody’s stream multiple times. Added to this, if a post has already been shared several times, you can be sure it would have reached a large number of Googlers (and improved its chances of appearing in Google Search!)
Courtesy, Blogger Buzz
The alternative is to give credit: this can be as a comment to their post, a separate update voicing your views (if they are numerous enough and go deep enough to be worth a read.) Even adding a simple adjective and +Mentioning them will make a visible difference.
4. The Circle Formula
Another major difference (and a great one, if I may add) is Google’s abolition of the You follow me, I’ll follow you attitude that really took nobody anywhere on other social networks.
When you circle somebody, do it genuinely, not fervently hoping they will circle back. However, when somebody circles you, take a look at their profile. You can never tell when an interesting person is around you until you endeavour to find out. But the point is that you can do it in the comfort of knowing there is no compulsion to circle anybody back. Unlike most other social networks, following on Google+ is not mutual and this allows for better connection between people.
The attention herders from point #2 above are present here too. One can find them strolling Google+ with rather useless comments to make, but make it often enough that you read their name over and over again until you decide to check their profile — or something to that effect. You get the point.
I think hangouts are where netiquette turns into etiquette, another fine example of how the Google+ formula reflects real life closer than ever.
I need hardly go into the decencies in hangouts: a web camera is not the sole requirement in a hangout. You also need a bucketload of respect and a tub full of politeness, among other things you ought to know by now. There is of course the social dictum, ‘Don’t talk when you have to listen;’ Or perhaps it says you should not talk over somebody else? Such manners we involuntarily adopt in daily life go a long way in making a hangout worth everybody’s time.
6. Huddle selectively
Just because you know calling many people will increase your chances of getting a positive reply, it does not mean you should randomly invite you 500-strong circle to a huddle.
If sharing posts is to selective circles, huddling goes twice the distance. When an Android and/or iPhone user decides to start huddling with the people in his circle, he is literally calling everybody for a casual conversation that often turns out to be aimlessly wandering with too many people saying too many things, picturing a different end. It helps to tailor your huddle to select people, all of whom you know would be really interested in the issue at hand.
Remember that a huddle is not a soapbox speech where one talks and the others have the option of disregarding them. A huddle is where people have accepted invitations to a group chat, so make their chat — like in all other aspects so far — worthwhile.
7. Scrutinise your shares
This is not so much a netiquette as it is something you ought to give time to. In short, avoid ridiculous talking cats (and cats playing pianos) and animated GIFs of any species.
Share things that you would enjoy reading/seeing if somebody else shared it and it came on your stream. It’s like that old rule of “do not do what you would not want done to you.” The point of Google+ is that a different, and even mature, community has formed around it which welcomes everybody so long as they know how to conduct themselves well. While on Google+ make sure you use, rather than abuse, the network’s features; and make double sure that you are not doing anything without the intention of enriching others’ streams.
Now these seven points are not the only unanimously agreed rules of netiquette on Google+, but they are a start. Personally, I think it is a list worth building so if you have your own views (or are opposed to any of the the seven already put up here) share it below!
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.
This is the last of a 4-part article series on Google+. Read the others here:
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.
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.
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.
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 authorpage 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.
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.
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)):
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.
Order search engines like Google to modify search results to exclude foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
Order payment providers like PayPal to shut down the payment accounts of foreign websites that host illegally copied material.
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.
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.
(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.
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!
I had no idea–and I do not think anybody did–that Google+ would become so popular for photographers, and photography per se, as it has become today. With Google+, often dubbed a photographer’s paradse, Picasa received a terrific lot of attention, Flickr may start losing out soon if Yahoo! does not come up with remarkable new ideas, and smaller portfolios such as 500px are seeing a wave of their photographers moving their entire work to Google+. Read more →