Tag: Google

Ends and means

Jeremy Keith:

I remember feeling very heartened to see WikiPedia, Google and others take a stand on January 18th, 2012. But I also remember feeling uneasy. In this particular case, companies were lobbying for a cause I agreed with. But what if they were lobbying for a cause I didn’t agree with? Large corporations using their power to influence politics seems like a very bad idea. Isn’t it still a bad idea, even if I happen to agree with the cause?

There’s an uncomfortable tension here. When do the ends justify the means? Isn’t the whole point of having principles that they hold true even in the direst circumstances? Why even claim that corporations shouldn’t influence politics if you’re going to make an exception for net neutrality? Why even claim that free speech is sacrosanct if you make an exception for nazi scum?

Those two examples are pretty extreme and I can easily justify the exceptions to myself. Net neutrality is too important. Stopping fascism is too important. But where do I draw the line? At what point does something become “too important?”

There are more subtle examples of corporations wielding their power. Google are constantly using their monopoly position in search and browser marketshare to exert influence over website-builders. In theory, that’s bad. But in practice, I find myself agreeing with specific instances. Prioritising mobile-friendly sites? Sounds good to me. Penalising intrusive ads? Again, that seems okey-dokey to me. But surely that’s not the point. So what if I happen to agree with the ends being pursued? The fact that a company the size and power of Google is using their monopoly for any influence is worrying, regardless of whether I agree with the specific instances.

Google’s handling of HTTPS and AMP is fascinating to watch. It seems that really smart people are worried about how this will all end up. I find myself identifying strongly with the above. Read the whole piece.

Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria

James Somers writing for The Atlantic:

Google’s secret effort to scan every book in the world, codenamed “Project Ocean,” began in earnest in 2002 when Larry Page and Marissa Mayer sat down in the office together with a 300-page book and a metronome. Page wanted to know how long it would take to scan more than a hundred-million books, so he started with one that was lying around. Using the metronome to keep a steady pace, he and Mayer paged through the book cover-to-cover. It took them 40 minutes.

With that 40-minute number in mind, Page approached the University of Michigan, his alma mater and a world leader in book scanning, to find out what the state of the art in mass digitization looked like. Michigan told him that at the current pace, digitizing their entire collection—7 million volumes—was going to take about a thousand years. Page, who’d by now given the problem some thought, replied that he thought Google could do it in six.

An absolutely fascinating dive into the history of Project Ocean, covering how it started at Google, how Google scanned the books (camera arrays, clever algorithms and human page turners), and the years-long legal wrangle between Google, the Authors Guild and the DOJ.

It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.

Interestingly Page later opined during a Q&A that maybe it would be a good idea to “set aside a part of the world” to try out some “exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation.” He was roundly criticised for being an annoying, out-of-touch billionaire at the time, but perhaps he was just being wistful.

Blerging About I/O

Chris Lacy kindly asked me to join him on The Blerg, re-treading some ground from his first I/O Keynote breakdown with Koush Dutta.

Chris had more thoughts on the keynote in the days since, and wanted to get me on the horn to sound out a few ideas and hear my impressions of the presentation. Have a listen here:

The Blerg #26: Google I/O Keynote followup with Karl Smith

…and be sure to subscribe to The Blerg on your favourite podcasting app.


Links:

Google I/O Prediction: Hangouts

The I/O keynote is in a few hours, and while there’s been a ton of announcements and app updates leading up to the event there’s been no mention of Google’s maligned Hangouts app. So here’s my fearless prediction: expect a huge Hangouts announcement/release to a standing ovation during the keynote.

There’s just no way the app has been lacking in features and overall stability for this long (not to mention the apparent favouring of the iOS version of the app over Android) without the Google team having something up their sleeves.

Hangouts :(


UPDATE: Prediction wrong! Hangouts was just as neglected at I/O as it seems to be in it’s day-to-day life. Google did announce a new messaging app that seems to be targeted much more at the mass-market, including stickers and a built in Google assistant (don’t call it a bot?). Also announced was Duo, a one-to-one video chat app which looks very promising indeed – low friction, simple to use, good quality video!

Further reading:

Google Play Music: Fix Incorrect Match

Google Play Music: Fix Incorrect Match

If you’ve been wondering what to do when Google picks a bad match for one of your uploaded songs, wonder no more: you can force Play Music to revert to your original upload using the web interface.

Go to: My Library > List by Songs > Filter: Purchased and Uploaded — then right click and Fix Incorrect Match.

Via: @GooglePlayMusic & @AndrewKam

Google Save

Google Saves

So Google Save is pretty interesting. I tend to keep stuff in a weird combination of Pocket (for articles), Pinterest (for mood board stuff), a Twitter “read later” list and a few other places. I wonder if this could become a real catch-all for me.

A few observations:

  • You can edit the link title AND description, which is pretty interesting
  • No inline player for YouTube, seem like an oversight
  • No reading mode, so Pocket will still be my go-to place for a raw reading list
  • This seems best used for making Collections of links – think: researching a topic, or collecting links on areas of specific interest
  • You can’t currently share a Tag/collection, but surely that’s coming…

Links:

Why Chromecast is a big deal

Last week Google surprised the tech punditry by announcing Chromecast, a $35 HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV and plays video that you queue to it from your phone or Chrome browser.

Currently the device has out-of-the-box support for YouTube, Netflix and Google Play – and though that’s it for native support (for now), it can also send any Chrome tab to your TV (which in itself is a pretty great feature) including the ability to fullscreen any video playing in the tab on your TV.

Streaming local files to your TV is in beta, but it looks like the SDK enables a pretty seamless experience streaming from devices to your TV, all making it potentially a legitimate competitor to the 3 year old – and three times more expensive – Apple TV.

Jeff Jarvis dropped some great first thoughts right after the announcement which are worth a read. His first point nails it:

“Simply put, I’ll end up watching more internet content because it’s so easy now.”

With one click to send any web content to the TV, and at only $35, this is a killer solution. But this also means something more.

TV Democratised

VHS. Tivo. Netflix. TV has been ripe for disruption for decades, and while slow but important inroads have been made in both distribution and time shifting, you’ve always needed the same appliances to get the actual content onto that big screen in your living room: bunny ears, a cable from the wall, set top boxes.

Cheap, powerful computing eventually democratised music recording and cheap, high-quality cameras eventually democratised video and film. Will the affordable, easy-to-use Chromecast democratise what screens on your TV every day?

YouTube has had an historic impact on the video landscape. Now, you can bypass not only the gatekeepers of content distribution, you can bypass the gate to the TV itself. Any creator, filmmaker, photographer, designer or artist can make that last leap from your laptop into your living room, and you better believe they think this is a huge opportunity.

In his excellent review, Nilay Patel mused on the limited native app support at launch:

“History suggests that counting on Google to convince content companies to add Chromecast support to their apps is a foolish bet.”

Forget the “content companies”. A much more interesting question is: how quickly will Chromecast support come from everyone else?


More on Chromecast:

The Verge review (and video)
Android Police review
MKBHD hands on (video)