Tag Archives: google

What Google Is…

Or at least, what it might be up to…

So. Google (arguably) has access to the most complete and up-to-date dataset of fact, opinion, intent and interconnection on the planet. What’s it doing with it, apart from shifting ads and servicing up web search?

Let’s start with a provocation. Why didn’t Google management either:

  1. Profit from,
  2. Alert us to, or
  3. Intervene to stop

…the ongoing collapse of contemporary capitalism? Was that an active decision on their part, or do they simply not have the predictive capability? That’s an either-or question. We’re guessing the answer is that they don’t, but that they’re working on it. Wouldn’t you be?

Google’s long-standing interest in zeitgeist and trending suggests a deep interest in the descriptive uses of their wealth of data. Once you have description nailed, then prediction is a logical next target — and prediction at the scale Google might attempt would lead to a historical discontinuity of the kind only tackled head-on by Golden Age science-fiction hacks. Check out, for example, Isaac Asimov’s 1955 short story Franchise set in a [fictional] Election Year 2008 in which

… the United States has converted to an “electronic democracy” where the computer Multivac selects a single person to answer a number of questions. Multivac [...] then uses the answers and other data to determine what the results of an election would be, avoiding the need for an actual election to be held.

The story centers around Norman Muller, the man chosen as “Voter of the Year” in 2008. At first he is not sure he wants the responsibility of representing the entire electorate, worrying that the result will be unfavorable and he will be blamed. However, after voting he is very proud that the citizens of the United States had, through him, “exercised once again their free, untrammeled franchise” — a statement that is somewhat ironic as the citizens didn’t actually get to vote.


There has been much speculation that Google is working to develop some general high level artificial intelligence. AI is tricky and doesn’t, we think, fit Google’s proven modus operandi. Google people like to solve pragmatic tasks in clever ways, not mess with fiddly intractables.

Consider Google’s recently announced flu prediction system — which analyses clustering in search query data to infer epidemiology two weeks earlier than traditional methods. We’re guessing the development of this tool offers clues to what Google is really expending the bulk of its computing resource and intellectual activity towards — not on AI research, but on data-driven predictive models for all sorts of real-world happenings — not only those related to public health, but the financial markets, weather systems, sports results.

We’re betting Google doesn’t know which real-world phenomena it will be able to model predictively. It doesn’t matter. As long as it can model some of the systems which drive our lives, Google is placed to dominate the global economy through the next economic cycle. Revisiting our original question — does Google’s non-intervention in the Crash of ’09 mean that they haven’t got the modelling down yet, or that they simply don’t want to Get Involved? Either way, it’s a Google future, people. Enjoy your franchise.

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The Only Game in Town

Fingers crossed…

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Chrome, The Cloud, McCloud

Google explains its new browser, comic-book style

McCloud on ChromeGoogle has announced its launch of a ‘cloud computing’-focussed web browser, Chrome. Is this just what the world needs, or a sign that the Big G has jumped the shark? Hard to tell at this point, but they’re certainly pressing a lot of the right buttons with both product and announcement. Chrome is based on the WebKit open source renderer (same as Apple’s Safari), and the whole project is also Open, natch. The system’s architecture is, according to Google, designed with security and performance in mind.

And — most excellently exciting for alphanerds everywhere — Google has commissioned an explanatory online comic from the Tufte of comic design himself, Scott McCloud, which explains exactly What Chrome is All About. Perfect material for writers (such as yours truly) having their first latte of the day and in need of primo fresh bloggables. Now that’s how to market yourself online in 2008…

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Web 3.0 Starts Today

No, really.

People get ready. Both Google and FaceBook have this week announced APIs (Google Friend Connect and FaceBook Connect, respectively) which enable ‘any site’ to be aware of identities and social networks — turning the web inside out and focussing (finally!) on people and their interactions rather than content and its location. We’ve been banging on about this since 1994, and think it’s about bloody time, frankly.

Big news (and probably a harbinger of the demise of bespoke social media aggregators like our recent fave FriendFeed). Read the press releases and phone your favourite VC. Now.

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Britney Fears

Celebrity tragedy for sale

Footage of Britney Spears being hospitalised for the second time in a month hits YouTube and Google‘s search advertising hits postmodern paydirt. Running next to the clip is an ad for a ringtone of Britney’s current single, ‘Piece of Me’, in which she sings about her life of overexposure and exploitation:

I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17
Don’t matter if I step on the scene
Or sneak away to the Philippines
They still gon put pictures of my derrière in the magazine
You want a piece of me?
You want a piece of me…


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Al Jazeera and YouTube To Share Ad Revenue

Google and Arabic news channel cozy up

TechCrunch notes that Al Jazeera has signed a commercial agreement with Google last week to share advertising revenue on their YouTube channel:

This comes even as U.S. cable operators continue to shun the 24 hour news service — only Toledo, Ohio based Buckeye CableSystem and the municipal cable suppler in Burlington, Vermont offer the channel to viewers.

Al Jazeera uploads all original programming and unique news to the channel. Interesting to be reminded that the US still has to go to YouTube to see Al Jazeera (whose worldwide audience rivals that of the BBC) while here in the UK the channel is even available via Murdoch’s network.

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What Goooogle Knoooows about Yoooou

Is there any part of our lives online and offline that Google doesn’t know about?

People laughed when we reported on that anecdote a while back that Google was developing an artificial intelligence. Well — it doesn’t seem so ludicrous now does it? This nice post points out exactly what Google knows about us at any one time. And it’s A LOT.

Bits that we’ve hacked out of the post:

With its acquisition of Feedburner, Google now controls the leading company for managing RSS feeds. Thus, Google knows everything about my readers – how many of them there are, where they come from, and how they access my content. How might Google use this information? Targeting ads in my feeds based on context or geography sounds like a start, but using cookies the company could also theoretically collect data on my readers and better tailor ads to them throughout Google’s product line.


With an estimated 30% market share (based on bloggers, many of whom use Google-owned Blogger, reporting statistics from the now Google-owned Feedburner!), Google Reader is one of the most popular tools for aggregating RSS feeds. By knowing the blogs and news sites I read, Google can tailor ads to my preferences. Additionally, Google could use this data to customize my search results by favoring sites similar to those to which I subscribe.


Through Gmail and Gchat, Google knows everyone I contact. While you can turn a chat session “off the record,” Gmail’s 2.859GB (and counting!) of storage provides enough space so most people never need to delete a message. Thus, Google has both a history of all of my emails and chats, and can also make inferences about my strongest connections are based on how frequently I correspond with them


While Google’s photo sharing application Picasa is far from a market leader, with its purchase of YouTube and its homegrown Google Video product, Google is the undisputed dominant player in online video. Thus, Google knows not only what I search for, but what I produce.

(Around here is where it gets scary … )

Hopefully you’re not so unlucky to be one of the guys photographed leaving the strip club or adult book store in the new Google Street View feature, but there is a good chance your house or workplace can be seen via satellite in Google Maps. Additionally, Google Maps competes with MapQuest, Yahoo, and a host of others for providing driving directions, so they have a good idea of the places you frequent.


While Google is still in the early stages of building out its suite of Office-like applications, their ambitions have become fairly clear. With Docs & Spreadsheets, an upcoming PowerPoint competitor, and partnerships with the likes of Intuit and Salesforce.com, Google is spreading its tentacles far and wide in the business applications space, gaining knowledge into what you do, your finances, and who your contacts are.

With thanks to Adam Ostrow, whose post “MySoul, and 10 Other Things that Google Owns” this is based on.

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Cat Visible on Google Maps Shock

But it’s not the size of the cat that’s the issue…

Goodies Kitten Kong toppling the Post Office Tower

Google Maps’ new Street View feature provides a street-level view of buildings, composited from images filmed by camera trucks which have explored and photographed every alley and byway of — for the moment at least — a few major American cities. Street View is an early outrider of a new wave of digital services which take ‘pervasive’ to a new level. Pervasive, or invasive? To Oakland, California resident Mary Kalin-Casey, the sight of her cat Monty peering out her second-story window in the Street View panorama of her apartment block meant that Google had peered a few pixels too far into her private world. According to a New York Times report:

“The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people’s lives,” Ms. Kalin-Casey said in an interview Thursday on the front steps of the building. “The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged.”

Her husband quickly added, “It’s like peeping.”

“Quickly”, one assumes, as the stopwatch is obviously running out on their 15 minutes of zeitgeisty fame.

Concerns about privacy are understandable — but the real issue here is what happens when this information gets mashed up with the rest of the digitally-tagged world-of-tomorrow-afternoon. Close your curtains, hunker down behind the sofa with your cat and laptop, and stay tuned.

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Sexist Search

Female inventors? There must be some mistake, sir!

he invented she invented on google
Want to find some famous female inventors?

Try the query “she invented” in Google, and it will come back to you with a helpful

Did you mean: “he invented”

Sigh. This isn’t Google’s ‘fault’ — but it does sadly reflect that there are a lot more references and queries online to inventions by males than females.

[via Digg]

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Google Fear

BusinessWeek ponders the power of Google a good year after we did…

In the article, BusinessWeek writes about the GoogleZon film (old news) and asks, “Is Google Getting Too Powerful?”

Sound familiar?

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